All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permission Request,” at the address below.
© Jaxx Summers (Janice G. Ross) October 2014
Published by Cultural Cocktails
Editing and Formatting by
Karen Perkins of
Cover Design by
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events are strictly the product of the author or used fictitiously. Any similarities between actual persons, living or dead, events, setting or locations are entirely coincidental.
[+ Janice G. Ross+] for urban and cultural reads:
Damaged Girls I, II & III
Island Hopping Series (Books 1 & 2): Jumping Ship & Trinidad & Tobago
Jezebel Jones, A Love Story
Just Between Us – Short Story Anthology (Love Letter to Jahdai)
[+ Jaxx Summers+] for paranormal lovers:
Samaria (Books 1 & 2): Warrior Princess & Vampire Queen
Mysticism & Myths Collection (Carnem Levare)
Carnem Levare is the Latin term signifying the start of the pre-Lenten celebration. In essence it means to remove the meat. This term came to be known as carnival: a celebration, a feast, a recognition of cultural differences, and a time to lose one’s self.
Stefano Bonaro awoke floating face down in a hidden canal. The alley appeared to be closing in on him. He gasped, swallowing a mouthful of fluid. His nostrils filled. He jolted and flipped over onto his back. Looking up, he could see a distant sparkle, letting him know that night was dipping away. The stars clung on, in hopes of providing a touch of added pleasure, Stefano reasoned. He couldn’t understand how he’d ended up this way and in this location.
Luckily, he’d learned to swim at an early age, so he propelled around the marble foundation of a palatial structure. At first he felt lost in the once lonely lagoon but, as the edges of the waterfront came into view, Stefano relaxed. Arriving at the steps of the dock, he quickly took to dry land rung by rung. Once settled on the planks, he rummaged through his mind. He remembered drifting along with Anastasia; an argument. Or rather, emotional pain and her speaking in calm phrases. He pictured the detached manner of her rejection.
And then it all came back . . .
Stefano dove back into the water, swimming far out into the Grand Canal and searching for anything that would confirm his thoughts. He sought to debunk what his mind confided. Tears clashed with his surroundings. He dove under, plunging further into the abyss. Forcing his legs to flash fiercer, tearing through the heavy fluids.
“Anastasia,” he gurgled. He was barely able to make out trash that had been thrown against the sea floor, and his frustration at this unproductive search increased.
By the time he returned to ground, he panted in exasperation. And dangled his legs from the edge of the pier, slowly manipulating the waves. He studied his limbs—the watered-down slacks that clung to muscular legs and long fingers that were pale and colorless. A dingy white shirt threatened to smother him entirely, so he loosened the top two buttons and collar. His mind raced as he considered the inward flow from the Adriatic Sea in relation to its exit. In search of true love, Stefano would brave the entire roundabout—even out to the massive entrance. He pondered its strength with slight fear. Common sense forced him to finally step onto the main road.
As his countrymen walked along the paving, they did not take even a moment to acknowledge him. Stefano was distraught. He buried his face in his palms. His weeping was loud, yet no one comforted him. They went about their lives, oblivious to Stefano’s pain. His fingers rested at his forehead before running through the full length of his copper-brushed, curly brown coils. For one so appealing to study, his strong square jaw might as well have been caved in, since heartache so tragically robbed Stefano’s joy.
He forced himself to stand tall, pacing slowly around. His feet shuffled. The sun was now blazing into his face. Of the few people around, Stefano was the only one not in a hurry. He turned in the direction of home, nearly being overrun by another man that was several inches taller. And as Stefano sidestepped, another overtook him. Preparing to withstand the effect, the second man passed right through him.
Stefano was now frozen in the middle of the path. He no longer tried to dodge his peers. Instead, he allowed them all to overtake him. He coughed and spun around. For whatever reason, Stefano was no longer a part of their realm. He had lost Anastasia and at the same time, it seemed, his humanity.
“Stefano, I promise to love you with my very last breath,” Anastasia declared.
They were hiding behind a set of freshly primed shrubbery. The docking area for the Soranzo home was built with lightly colored stones that were a perfect complement to thick layers of marble flooring. Water would dash against and onto the entrance. But it was ever silent and peaceful now. At times, the cinnamon-shaded gondola would brush against the concrete, though it was the seductive whistles of the breezes rushing the waves that soothed the soul.
A leaf clung to Anastasia’s loose bun, and Stefano considered it to be the perfect opportunity to reach up and remove it. In the process, he took full advantage in trailing the back of his right hand along her lengthy lashes, powdered cheeks, perky lips and the exposure of her breasts. She shivered, but clearly fought to remain still. Stefano wanted a reaction. He needed to know that he was capable of making her lose control because, in her presence, he was irrevocably lost.
Rather than withdraw his hand from her milky tones, he allowed it to settle between her peaks. For a moment, his eyes withdrew from their course, seeking approval from her gaze.
His lover was smitten.
As she sat in peaceful lust, the heaving of her pale bosoms continued to deepen. Stefano’s own chest begun pounding. His lips were suddenly dry and in need of moisture. His tongue traced along the edges, while he palmed the astonishing growth of her womanly figure. She was perfectly packaged, waiting to be unwrapped someday. Stefano envisioned that day, hoping in its fruition.
“Anastasia, I promise to love you . . .” His tone increased. He grew nervous, taking a deep breath before continuing. “Forever Anastasia, forever. My love, I need you.”
In all his nineteen years, Stefano had never taken a woman. He was promised to Anastasia and she to him, and so they waited to be husband and wife.
“Must we wait forever?” Anastasia asked, peering from beneath fluttering lashes. “Stefano, you were mine before birth. I don’t need a vow to prove what is meant to be.” Their families’ bond had been solidified when their mothers, lifelong friends, had become pregnant and given birth on the same day.
And so this day Stefano and Anastasia decided to no longer wait for family and religion to dictate what they already knew to be inevitable. Anastasia’s home was empty, save for a few servants. She dismissed their presence. Her parents had gone off to attend hours of revelries in preparation for the festivities.
Stefano had been inside of the Soranzo home many times. There was very little that he had not seen, especially since their families were engrained in each other’s lives. But today, he would venture beyond his unspoken limits.
As they moved amongst the treasures of gold fixtures and dusty rose furnishings, he dare not stop to admire. He had done so many times before. While they climbed upwards from the lower levels, his breathing sped up and heart pounded. Today, images and shades became mere distractions on his path to manhood. Anastasia’s gown was slightly raised, revealing the backs of gleaming white shoes. Stefano advanced as she did, becoming entranced with her scurrying.
Once they were inside Anastasia’s elaborate burnt orange room, Stefano secured the lock. His lover stood only two feet from his position. She extended her arms, giving him permission to advance. He didn’t hesitate.
Since the time they’d been out in daylight, Stefano had wondered what it would feel like to bury his head inside Anastasia’s mountains. He dipped down to find out, first releasing unwavering kisses upon her neck. Wasting no time, he speedily freed a single breast from its restraint. He gasped at its fullness. Anastasia advanced backwards. Reaching the simplistic cradle of her nightly dreams, she spun around, encouraging him to loosen her reins.
He panted after reaching only her petticoat and linen undergarments. It was a task, but he was successful without having to rip the brilliantly designed frock to shreds. He swiftly removed his own attire, tossing everything aside. At five foot eleven inches, his entire body was glorious and well cared for. Anastasia ran her palms against the rise and dips of his broad chest. Then she pulled away. He followed her scurry in anticipation.
They moved in sync. Anastasia crawled backwards, her backside trailing along the richly intense bedspread. Stefano scurried as a smitten pet, his private brushing against the thick covering. When his princess’s back reached the mountains of pillows, he took advantage to dive onto her midsection. His mouth trailed against her entire body, pleasuring as only an experienced lover could do. But prior to this day, his count was null. Stefano was only doing the things that his cravings dictated. He had eagerly wanted to feel her bosoms against his tongue, so when he tipped the pink flowers, he felt his flesh increase. This reaction caused him to suckle a little more, tug a touch harder, and squeeze to gain further traction.
“Stefano,” Anastasia exclaimed. “Inamorato . . . inamorato.”
Her declarations drove him wild. He gripped both breasts, pushing them inward, milking their goodness. He moaned in his efforts, she continued to call out his name. And only when he received a significant fill from one toy did he move his fingers lower. Stefano’s hands shook. His limbs felt mushy, his private part firm, and his entire resolve thrilling. He was on the verge of officially entering manhood, yet that achievement was minor in comparison to the thought of solidifying his connection with his creamy princess.
So when he used his fingers to tease at her insides, Stefano became an experienced lover. His actions reflected maturity. He instantly knew that in extending and contracting, in expanding and decreasing his fingers, he would be able to pleasure Anastasia. Although his flesh extended straight out and upward from the bedding, he need not make himself a priority. In fact, he rather enjoyed her reaction. While still engaged with her flesh, he used his free hand to travel up her thighs, resting on her breasts. No sooner was contact made with his palms, he wrapped barely visible lips around her skin and nibbled.
Anastasia squealed. Her hips jolted back and forward against his wrists. Her hands traveled downward to encourage his entrance, demanding a deeper force. When his fingers could no longer sustain the job, she forced him away.
In full view of his private salute, she wrapped her fingers around his growth, pushing him toward a heap of pillows.
“Stefano,” she blushed, “perfetto.”
Studying the glimmer of her blue pupils, he nodded. Anastasia speedily embraced his slender member. He could tell that her urges were increasing when her grip tightened and massaged.
“Ahhhh!” he cried out. His declaration hammered at his chords. “Ahhhh!”
He wasn’t even able to cry out again before he erupted. Anastasia pulled away, shocked. Her cheeks displayed how very inexperienced she felt.
Lowering her head, though peering into his face, she added, “Was it satisfying?”
He could not speak, but merely declared his love.
“Il mio amore!”
Stefano then repositioned himself on top of Anastasia, plunging his supreme erection deep inside fresh, untouched walls. They clung to one another’s naked flesh.
The cradling of Stefano’s growth against Anastasia’s walls became an affirmation, a promise of forever. Each movement inside her expanding tightness, the penetration developed from simple need to must have; must occupy. Stefano’s hips thrust wildly, causing the bed to shift. Their noisemaking filled the room, bouncing about the rich furnishings, seeping beneath the doorways.
The servants gathered outside the partition, mouths hanging open. There was little need to press against the white wooden door for confirmation. Lovemaking, or rather the sound of lovemaking, was an uncommon appearance from Anastasia’s room. But they knew. No one dared disturb the mistress and her betrothed, even though madre e il padre Soranzo would explode if they were home. And so, Stefano and Anastasia shamelessly drew down scandal into the typically quiet home.
Stefano left some four hours later. The couple was able to rejuvenate and reinvent themselves. They did the things that felt right and avoided worry. At the end of this escapade, they swore eternal love. Anastasia, at the time, meant forever. For Stefano, forever meant forever.
When Stefano arrived home, his parents were impatiently awaiting him. Their faces, etched with lines, matched the quivering in their voices.
“Stefano, we must have a family meeting.” His father, whom Stefano had always admired because of his calm demeanor, was now unsettled.
“What is wrong, Papi? Is Marco here?”
“No, we don’t need to wait for your brother.”
Stefano’s insides began churning.
A family meeting?
Without my older brother?
Then why label it as a family meeting?
They had not advanced from the entryway, though his mother kept trying to nudge him inward. Stefano had a lurking feeling that their lives were about to be changed. This mental capability was the same one that had saved him in the past. He would be prompted to move from one position to another, and in the process had avoided accidents. From the time that he was able to understand words, he realized that his senses were enhanced. This time was no different.
“Tell me,” he commanded of his parents. His father gripped his shoulder, pulling his son into a wide embrace. Stefano pushed away. “No! No!” He turned to exit the home.
“Everything is different now. You must forget about Anastasia . . .”
Those were the last words he remembered hearing that night: Forget about Anastasia.
Stefano blacked out. As he raced away from his parents and into a flow of people, he became throttled by heartache. He screamed, cursing to the heavens. Hearing the commotion, his parents called for the servants to bring their son back into the home.
Stefano’s rage was subdued while he was unconscious, though the minute he came to, reality embraced him as before. But this time, his mother stood off to the side of his large bed, pleading for her son’s speedy return to his senses.
“My son.” His mama stood up to lean closer and examine his face. Her powdery foundation had begun to fade away, exposing roughly aging skin. Her lipstick had become blotchy, spreading beyond the thin lines of slender lips. The powder-blue frock that was primed neatly only an hour before was now ravaged and soiled with hints of bright red. At first glance, one would think it blood. But as Stefano studied the woman’s fatigue, he saw how very troubled she was. His heart softened.
“Why?” he asked, attempting to rise up from the oversized monstrosity. “Anastasia was promised to me.” Stefano’s voice quaked.
Papi Bonaro lowered his head, hands rubbing at his hair.
“Tell him,” Mama demanded. She approached her husband and removed his hands.
“How many times must I apologize?”
Stefano’s mother walked away. She approached her son and clasped her palms against the corners of his face, rubbing her thumbs along his ear lobes. “Forget about the Soranzo family. You will meet a more beautiful girl and fall in love much greater.”
“Anastasia is mine,” he pled.
“No longer, my son,” she comforted, though her voice was stern.
“They are like family . . . they are family!” He fought back, his voice vibrating off the walls.
“Family, Son? Family?” Mama Bonaro swung around from her son and took a hold of her husband’s wrist. “Digli!”
“Mia moglie . . .” Senore Bonaro was determined not to tell his son of his indiscretions. He loved this woman at his side, and valued his family.
“You call me your wife, but bedded my best friend . . . my childhood friend!” No sooner had her words rushed out, she raced out of the room.
Stefano could not speak. He could barely breathe. His parents’ trials were not what bothered him. They had lived as he now chose to do, with love. As for his future, he knew that another could never claim his love. His heart would eternally remain with Anastasia.
And that day . . . those words . . . his promises . . . the tears would never be forgotten.
Stefano’s family did not back down from demanding his attention to all that was valuable in their cause. Loyalty was at the heart of their commandments. His body moved forward, while his soul, spirit and focus dwelled in the past. And for months, he functioned this way. Whenever his mind found solace in the memory of Anastasia, he fell deeper into this wishful world. After a mere sampling of her delicate skin, perfect cream breasts and delectable juices, he could never consider moving on.
One late evening, as Stefano began feeling in a passion, he marched away from his home.
Damn family mistakes.
Damn finding another love.
Damn living without Anastasia.
He no longer cared to store away his emotions, and instead made heated flight to Anastasia’s forbidden home. As he approached, lighting and visitors adorned the front. He heard laughter and friendly welcomes. Stefano rushed to a nearby alleyway. His heart was wildly thudding in his chest. He forced himself to breathe at a reduced pace, until he was at a total ease.
Rushing off to a nearby waterway, he confiscated a rather poor-looking vessel. He knew how to easily maneuver the tide and quickly reach his intended. From where he stooped, he could hear several conversations in the distance, as people entered the building from the waterway entrance. He silently awaited an opportunity to steal into the home. With so many in attendance, he couldn’t imagine that anyone would pay much attention to a lovesick fellow.
“Congratulations,” someone declared.
“We wish you all the best!”
Stefano could not understand what it all meant or the purpose behind this apparent celebration. Worrying about it would only take his focus away from his reason for breaching his family’s orders. So he moved closer through the other docked gondolas, remaining undetected. His path was filled with light until he reached the garden, where he remembered his and Anastasia’s flirting that had eventually led them into adulthood. He heard giggling; Anastasia’s gentle voice. Stefano’s heart became swollen, filled with emotions.
He was ready to make himself known. After being vocal for years about how much he longed to become her husband, he no longer cared about their present forbidden love. His right leg stretched outward to lie in the night’s subtle glare. But just as he was about to fully emerge, he heard a male’s tone.
“We shall have a baby girl, as breathtaking as you,” the voice declared.
“And a baby boy as handsome as you, Antonio.” Stefano recognized Anastasia’s sounds. He would have denied those words belonged to her, if not for the way her giggles flooded the night. He even recognized the seductive manner in which she rolled her tongue around the ‘s’ in handsome. That word was meant for him, not some man. Stefano wanted to rush out, grab the man and toss him to the ground. His fists balled up as he salivated on how he’d smash the stranger’s face for ever propositioning Anastasia. But he knew that move was impossible. So the jilted lover pressed against the moist stone wall and wept.
The following day, Stefano rejected family. They in turn maintained a healthy distance. When he returned, his mother greeted him. They didn’t exchange any words because his demeanor said it all. As he fought against reason, Stefano became haunted by images of darkness—blood-tainted waters, and even an unidentifiable body floating face down in the water. The feelings that arose in him were anything but terrifying. Then a knock against the door rattled him away from this dark world.
“Stefano,” his mother’s voice funneled through the doorway. There was a ten-second pause. He remained silent. “You need to move on. Anastasia has moved on.”
Mama Bonaro left.
Stefano could hear the rustling of her gown and the shuffling of her heels. In that very moment he hated his mother. He despised the words she spoke but, more than anything, he cursed the truth behind her declaration. In this torn conundrum, sleep reclaimed his mind. This time, there was only black lighting, as if that were at all possible. A tapping jolted him awake once more, and he shot upwards, bolting for the doorway. He was under the impression that he’d just barely fallen into a trance and his mother was returning to taunt him. As the door was flung wide, he momentarily found himself at a loss. In the entryway, beckoning him forward and into her embrace stood Anastasia.
“Il mio amore . . . mio Stefano . . .”
He blinked uncontrollably, unable to determine if his yearnings had somehow found free passage into the human world. But when she advanced forward and into his bare chest, he knew her to be real. His mind questioned the how, the why, the what and so much more. But his lips couldn’t express his inner torment.
“I’ve missed you so.” Anastasia’s voice caressed him. She owned his desires as she shut the door, making certain to latch it tightly. He remained in the same spot, even as her fingertips spread across his chest. It wasn’t until she reached down to capture his wrist that he finally moved. When her lips engaged his palms and her tongue trailed up to twirl against his fingers, Stefano moaned. He weakened, on the verge of becoming a puddle of sweat on the rug, and was easily redirected to the bed.
Anastasia aroused him as before, though this time she exhibited much more experience. The way she held onto his erection, confidently encasing it in her palms, skillfully conversing with her delicate mouth and wildly riding it until she drained him. This new woman was a hundred times more tempting as his passionate vixen. But Stefano loved her a million times more.
“I will always come back for you, Stefano,” were the last words she whispered that day, as she exited his bed. He wanted to beg her to remain, but he had very little strength left as he drifted into deep slumber.
Anastasia made regular visitations to Stefano’s bedroom, leaving him unresponsive every single time. He often thought to inquire about her relation to the man she’d been planning with, though the words never manifested. When in her presence, Stefano could focus only on his desperate urges.
After months of Anastasia’s bedroom visits, she abruptly stopped. Stefano would awake, eagerly planning how much he’d give his lover. He would even have conversations that were never to be heard because he knew that Anastasia was his ultimate weakness. What they’d begun in her bedroom was a mere sample of what was possible between the two. And what Anastasia had shown him was beyond anything he could have ever hoped to reach with her or any other woman.
There had been no prior warning, not even a hint of knowledge indicating that she would be indisposed. And so, when his parents headed out as normal for the start of the pre-Lent celebration, Stefano fled home as well. He’d chosen to adorn a suit of pure black, even to the three-sided hat. The only exception to this ensemble was a spectacular, half-golden mask with a long, slender nose. He hoped that his disguise would allow him to blend in with the crowds.
As he drifted through hidden alleyways, the patrons grew louder and thicker. Public engagements were not his forte, though he’d make the exception for Anastasia any and every day of his life. And with the thought of his lover, his object of desperation, filing through his brains, Stefano moved about packs of women that might have been his dearest. They were all hidden away beneath tons of packaged frames in the brightest of whites, most earnest of reds, and a multitude of clever varieties in between. The accompanying peekaboo masks were glorious. But in the eyes, Stefano hoped to name his Anastasia, the most amazing of women to ever live.
Several times, while preying on women of light-colored hair and delicate figures, Stefano awaited their break from company or even a moment of selfish toil. For surely, his Anastasia would sense his presence and steal away from all that was insignificant. His true love would know that he would find her and disregard this irrelevant celebration.
Unlike many, Carnem Levare was his least favorite of events. He had little desire to fraternize with everyone, in the middle of the square, in full disguise. He did not even care to be amongst his countrymen in the rich gatherings at the theater or being entrapped, as others, with song.
The only reason he adorned his current selection was to reach and connect with his one truest. But this search was proving to be fruitless. Having grabbed several elbows, only to inhale an incompatible scent, he grew even more disgusted with the revelries. He confronted every female that was without a mate in hopes of finding Anastasia. All that remained were the coupled ones.
At the thought of Anastasia’s infidelity with another man, he raged, though he tried to remain calm. He kept bumping into other patrons, rudely refusing to apologize for his own anger. The men felt the brunt of his force, while the women would merely experience a brush. He only needed to lean in several inches to sample their essence, though time and again Anastasia’s was not there.
Suddenly Stefano’s pitch-black jacket felt heavier while moisture poured down from his forehead. It almost seemed as if he became irritated anywhere the dark clothing connected with bare skin. This added to his frustrations; made him knock harder against the men, lean closer into the women.
People began whispering, taking a moment from their enjoyment to draw attention to this apparent madman. He knew they were looking, but he no longer cared. It wasn’t until Stefano finally spotted Anastasia’s familiar shoes, the ones she’d worn the day he first connected with her soul, that he then settled down.
Stefano’s entire behavior reduced from aggression to humility. He even found himself smiling, first on the inside, then on the out. Taking wide strides, he headed in the direction of his temptress. She was advancing away, though raising her dress and taking account to look back every now and again. Anastasia appeared to be encouraging his progression. To many it would not be obvious that her beckoning was meant for this madman—to many it was clear he was witless. Yet there were so many drunkards in attendance that Stefano’s actions could easily be discounted.
Whipping in and around the crowded pavements, Anastasia paused at the entrance to a dark alleyway. She took a moment to make eye contact with her stalker and nod, before advancing up the path. Stefano took this as the perfect opportunity to increase his pace.
When he arrived at the building’s brick edging, he didn’t bother to look about or take account of observers. The darkness and stench of tainted moisture could never hold him back.
He reached Anastasia after only five easy steps, and wrapped his hands around her waist, crushing her fuchsia gown. He even senselessly thrust her against the wall.
“You never came yesterday,” he began, barely able to get the words out. His lips crushed against hers. She allowed him to taste and inhale before pulling away.
“I promised to always come back to you, Stefano.” Her words were delicate, begging forgiveness. “I can’t stay long with you, my love.”
“Are you here alone?” Stefano didn’t want her to always come back to him. He wanted her to remain with him forever. He could not eat. He could barely live. And would not even consider a life outside of Anastasia.
“No,” was all that she could offer. She left him needing to hear more. He didn’t remove his hands that now grazed against her neck.
“I once overheard you planning life with another man.” His voice dipped. Trembling fingers raced along the edges of her white mask. “I can’t fathom a life without you. I can’t imagine you in the arms of anyone else.” He held onto the back of her head. The elastic string began pulling, strands of her hair blew about.
“But we can’t openly marry.” Anastasia tried to move from his grip but he was too tightly connected.
“I would rather live alone than with another woman.” He pressed into her lips and hips, forcing both closed extremities apart. His tongue plummeted through her apparent rejection. And while kissing her with little forgiveness, he continually muttered, “Mine . . . mine . . . mine.”
Pretty soon Anastasia was struggling, flailing and pleading.
“No, no, no, no, no . . .” he hushed her, afraid that she was reacting unnecessarily. He pressed closer, not wanting her to run away from him.
“You’re frightening me, Stefano.” Although he couldn’t see her eyes, the quiver of her words incited fear. “Let me go . . . please?”
“I could never hurt you, Anastasia. Please, stay longer.” He wasn’t asking permission. His knees were secure against the skirt of her fabric, pinning this prize against the cold brick structure. He stooped low enough to capture and tease at the upper portions of her breasts. He kissed along and around her costume. He was aroused, maddened by this enjoyment.
“Anastasia!” a male voice traveled in the distance. The call drew nearer, drifted further, and grew closer once more.
“I must go,” she pleaded again.
“Who is that man?” he asked under his breath.
“Stefano, if they find me with you, there will be hell.”
“Who is he?” he commanded in a higher tone, his voice cracking midway through.
“I don’t want to hurt—”
“Who is he?” Rather than increase his inquisition, Stefano lowered his sounds. There was a certain threat that accompanied his question, however. He stood straight and began to pace. Stopping off and on, he pounded against the opposing hedge.
“My betrothed,” Anastasia finally acknowledged.
Stefano stepped away, unable to go much further. His back pressed against stone. The mask that had remained intact, he immediately removed and cast down. He momentarily ceased to exist, save for the ongoing call of his dear Anastasia and the continuous pounding of his heart.
“Stefano . . .” Anastasia reached for his face, her head turned towards the bright opening of their resting place. He brushed her away. His head tossed, denying her, refusing company any longer.
“Go!” he shouted. Her body trembled causing the gown to shake. A gasp pierced the air. But as she turned to walk away, Stefano asked with compassion, “Why did you come to my bed?”
Without looking back, she paused. Her head dipped, hands spread outward. “You were my first, Stefano. I’ve loved you the longest.”
“But you are promised to another man now.” He moved toward her, placing his chest against the temptress’s upper back. “You gave me your body over and again. What kind of a woman have you become?”
Only then she turned to face Stefano. Looking down, barely able to decipher her emotions, his fingers crushed into her upper arms.
“Stefano, I will continue to come to your bed. I must marry Antonio, though I will always belong to you.”
“Do you visit his bed as well?” Stefano asked.
His question introduced twenty seconds of silent conversation. Her hands cradled his face. She pressed upwards, forcing him downwards. Without making it easy, Stefano’s tight lips were brought against hers. Her tongue outlined his mouth.
“What must I do? Move on?” His questions caused a tickling between them.
“Never move on,” she quickly demanded.
“That’s what you’re doing, Anastasia.”
“Mama and Papi are forcing me to move on.”
Stefano’s lips curved. He wanted to share what little he knew of his father and her mother’s infidelity, because she was clearly unaware. “What have they told you?”
“Papi has given no indication,” she replied softly. “Do you know why?”
“And you do not fight for love?”
“What choice do I have? They have made me—”
“Are they making you visit his bed likewise?”
She began backing away. Stifled noises traveled from her lips. Her head tossed.
“Then come away with me. Let us begin life together, the way it was meant to be from birth.”
Her hand rested at the exposed area above her bosoms. “My family would disown me.”
“Anastasia, this is your life . . . our lives. Did the promises you made mean nothing?”
He caressed her fingers, delicately propositioning her urges. For surely, Stefano believed, Anastasia only needed a reminder of how special he had always been. His action accomplished what he planned. Her fingers reciprocated. Their palms aligned, hands clasped. First the left, then the right. Facing one another, they freely exchanged breath. Stefano was content in just remaining in the dimly lit alleyway, permanently lost in the fixture of his forever love. He didn’t need anyone or anything beyond the exit, all that mattered to his existence was the woman in front of him. Then, in a single regrettable moment, reality corrupted his plans.
“Anastasia!” The call was closer than before . . . much closer. First there was a male voice, the same as before. Stefano growled at the reminder. Next a woman repeated the escapee’s name. Stefano recognized it as Anastasia’s mother’s.
When his love attempted to flee, he refused to let go. Anastasia pulled against his will, fiercely trying to break the hold he had so determinedly set. The more she struggled, the greater the pain of rejection. When she finally settled, his grip loosened.
“Please, Stefano,” she begged.
“You are going to him?”
“My mother awaits me too.”
“It is all for him. You—”
“I promise to return to you.”
“But you’ll leave again.”
“Stefano? How can I show that I love you?”
“Let us leave.” At his words, Stefano released her hands. He stood back, waiting silently for an affirmation.
“Leave our home? Leave our families?”
“I need time to think.”
“Can you meet me tomorrow?”
“I can’t be expected to make a life-changing decision now, Stefano.” Her hands spread across her forehead. “Why can’t we just be patient? Why not plan?”
“While we wait and plan, you will be given to another man. My life will no longer be worth living.”
Anastasia softened. She relaxed her pull, allowing her body to carelessly drift against his. And so they stood, transported to another location, perhaps the mainland. Where others did not hold control over their futures.
Stefano felt a tingly sensation as her hair brushed against his face. Each time he inhaled he savored her sweetness. Her thin frame nestled against his chest. The heaving, as breath flowed in and out of her body, reassured him that their love would live on. It reminded him that life held promise and purpose.
Anastasia promised to meet Stefano a week from that day. They planned an excursion away from this world. For Stefano, he considered it as more than an interlude.
For the following week, the bewitched lover revived. Stefano praised everyone and everything. He openly adored his mother as she pranced around, her wide hips swaying like drapes blowing in the wind. He remarked on her beauty, although he thought her plain. His brother was in the process of taking on a wife. Stefano studied the couple. His sister, who was also spoken for, was spoiled like never before. In them he saw hope, a future quite similar to what he planned for himself. And as he organized to leave for his fated get away, he clenched to his household.
“I love you, Mama . . . Papi.” Stefano found it difficult to maintain eye contact.
“Will you come with us to the theater?” His mother looped her arm around him, proudly swaying alongside her youngest son.
“I will meet you there. The night is splendid, I’d rather enjoy walking.”
They parted ways. He was left home, by his lonesome. A leather-bound brown travel satchel awaited him. It contained very little, perhaps about two days’ worth of attire. He hadn’t planned beyond that. Didn’t believe he needed to. The only definite thing Stefano believed he needed was his perfect Anastasia.
Stefano slipped away from home, the luggage in tow. The pavements were filled with many people. With everyone caught up in the madness of carnival, Stefano was able to blend in. He wore an elaborate gold and black costume, complete with shiny bauta mask. He initially carried a tricorno hat to match, until it became too complicated to manage without damaging. His golden mask was secure, reinforced about his ponytail.
The closer he drew to the meeting point, the quicker his pace. As their dock came into view, a large streetlamp shone down, drawing attention to how remarkably beautiful Anastasia was.
Stefano’s breath hitched.
He clutched his chest.
No more than several kilometers away stood his blessed lover. Her attire consisted of tons of cloth, but he could recognize her anywhere. Though she wore gold and red eye coverings, perfect pink lips puckered. Several rings of curls fluttered over bare shoulders, nestling on pale skin. Everyone else disappeared from sight. Stefano wanted to drop to his knees and worship at her feet. From this moment on, he had no intention of leaving Anastasia’s side.
“What do you carry, Stefano?”
“Enough attire to carry me through,” he responded. Glancing to her left and right, he was perplexed. “Should I fetch your luggage?”
Anastasia uncomfortably shifted from leg to leg, her frock lazily swung. Stefano’s heart sank.
“I cannot . . .” she cowardly responded. “Such a big decision . . . not at this time.” Her head dashed from side to side.
“You are choosing him instead of me?” His voice cracked.
“No, Stefano. We will wait.” She moved to him with only two full strides. “We can sail on the canal. We won’t be recognized.”
Stefano stepped back, refusing to be influenced. He felt betrayed by the one woman to whom he had given his heart. He flung down his parcel and began pacing at the canal’s edge. There were a series of voices passing by, minding their own affairs. He briefly turned to see pairs of lovers, flaunting their happiness. When he faced his own prospective lover, she drew into him, shamefully pressing against his chest. She easily bewitched him again. There was no more fight as they made way to a nearby gondola.
While they sailed about the canal, the waters sang a lovely tune of promise. Anastasia began humming aloud. It was the first sound to come alive from either of the two. Stefano’s heart weakened as the oar became burdensome in his hands. Nestling it securely across the tip, he allowed the vessel to drift, with only the mild declarations of fated love spewing from Anastasia’s lips.
She’d removed her mask. Her expressions floated across the space between them, the light wind from the waves brushed fresh perfume to the sides of Stefano’s face. His eyelids lowered. As usual, he was in a trance. The boat rocked, forming a natural lullaby.
“We can leave now, mio amore!” Stefano spoke and bore deep into her eyes.
Initially, Anastasia only continued singing. She turned away, as much as possible, considering her dress was highly restrictive.
“By the time they notice our disappearance, it will be too late to stop us,” Stefano encouraged.
And still, Anastasia pretended as if his words held little meaning. Her own ceased, replaced by taunting hums. Stefano’s heartbeat sped up; this time for all the wrong reasons. He took hold of the oar once more and begun moving wildly. With little direction and intent, the gondola spun with and against the current.
After about five minutes of Anastasia’s insensitive murmurs and Stefano’s own frustration, they somehow landed by the Ponte del Diavolo. He stopped moving the wooden oar as before. His guest finally stopped humming.
“Stefano, I will always love you, but we must move on—”
“Never!” he screamed at the top of his lungs. Waves of echoes reflected back.
His lover gasped. “Take me back . . . now, Stefano.” Her fingers spanned across her upper arms. Though her dress’s heavy material was restrictive, she continued to squeeze.
“Do not be afraid, amore. Forgive me. I only want to love you.” He paused, lowering his eyes to stare into her face. It was difficult in the darkness, but he had mastered the art of seeking out her sky-colored irises from any angle. And when she didn’t respond or relax, he moved to be at her side. But it was a fruitless attempt because they only rocked, nearly toppling over.
Anastasia became frenzied. She began waving her arms and twisting away from Stefano’s advances, the gondola started rocking even more so than before. This did not deter Stefano, as he now knelt before her, pressing down on the lower portions of her gown, cutting off the flow of her blood.
“You were born for me,” Stefano pleaded. He rested his head in her lap. “You are mine.”
“I am afraid . . .” Anastasia was barely able to speak. Her dress constricted her circulation. She gasped, but Stefano would not withdraw. He remained kneeling at her lap.
As the moon evaded their surroundings and darkness threatened their emotions, the silence was torturous. Anastasia’s pupils reached wildly for a nearby escape, while Stefano reckoned to remain forever. His fingers reached upward to caress her chin. She pulled away. Her hands clasped, removing any further hope of advancement.
“Take me back!” she commanded. This time her words were quick and rang through the air.
Stefano shook his head. He could not believe that she really wanted to be taken back, returned to a life of sacrifice. For Stefano, love meant everything . . . family meant nothing again.
“No . . . no . . .” He wanted her to believe that their lives would be forever intertwined. He resolved in his mind that tonight would be their flight. She had promised always; he had promised forever. Tonight would begin their always and forever.
“Get away from me, Stefano. I want to go home!”
As her body shook, he only clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. Quick sounds that were meant to settle his intended ran against the waves. Beyond the docks, dim reminders of carnival’s festivities carried on the night’s air. But the square was too far away and the participants were perhaps too far-gone to recognize the difference between a woman’s joy and poor Anastasia’s pleas.
“I will scream,” she calmly warned.
“For what reason would you? We are lovers.” Stefano knew that she could not possibly want to ward him off. He only needed to reassure her that he was capable of being her everything.
He drew closer. His chest tipped fully onto her lap. She wiggled unsuccessfully. Her feet wailed beneath her dress.
She spat at his mask.
He removed it.
There was not a trace of anger on his face, and certainly not in his words.
“I love you,” Stefano announced. His lips touched her nose, sank down to her lips and reached over to a cheek. “I’m the only one to love you, Anastasia. I’ve sampled your delicacies. I’ve cherished you from birth. And now, I will make you happy for eternity.”
She shook wildly. “You’re a madman! I no longer want this. I no longer want you. I am getting married to Anto—”
“No!” His chest pounded again. Not for love this time, but for anger. For whatever reason, Anastasia was trying to upset him. He couldn’t understand why. They had come together, practically unified as husband and wife. And now she was speaking of another man? “No!”
“I do love you, Stefano, but I have accepted my fate. My future does not lie with you.” With each word, she grew stronger. Her expression became firmer than before. Her position turned upright. She no longer cowered away from him. Instead, she pressed against him. “I enjoyed making love with you. I will never forget all that we have experienced together. You must understand, however, I am not yours—”
“No, Anastasia. You promised me forever.” He could not believe what she said. The woman he’d cherished from birth was dismissing him. “This is not possible. You said for always.”
“I am sorry, Stefano. You will meet another woman. You will fall in love again. You will have—”
“I will never love another woman.”
“You will. And you will treasure her the same.”
“I will hate all other women!” He was now sobbing, leaning into her lap. His mumblings died at her skirt. Life meant nothing without this woman. Pain and disdain bubbled deep within. “I will never love again.” He raised his head at this promise. Sparkles of light from beyond the dock reminded him that this should be a happy time. But he simply couldn’t see it that way.
“I will never forget you, Stefano. Now you must take me back.”
“You’ll understand, Anastasia. You love me . . . yes.” His head moved up and down. “We’ll remain together. You will not ever regret it.”
He would never take her back. She would eventually be thankful he’d kept her there. Reasoning could not convince Stefano otherwise.
After Stefano was thrust back into the mortal world, he went in search of his family home. Inside he found his mother burning candles and chanting along with her friends. The room was otherwise dark. Five of them sat about a tiny circular table that was covered with a black skirt. Each woman was covered in matching mourning shades. Their fingers clung desperately at each other. Mrs. Bonaro’s voice rose well beyond the others. The ritual halted after twelve minutes.
“Is he here?” one of the ladies asked.
“Can you feel him?” another inquired.
“Stefano was my son, I always sense his presence.” Mama Bonaro was irate. Her actions were sharp.
“One year, my friend . . . you’ve journeyed into this darkness for one year. When will you stop?” A friend mumbled from across the table. “We know nothing of spirits and traveling the realms, only what has been discovered this year.”
The woman to Mrs. Bonaro’s right released her grip. “We have called up Stefano’s spirit countless times. He has not come to us. Perhaps he is not dead.”
“Anastasia’s body was found wrapped in his coat—”
“He was never found—”
“Let it go, please?”
“My son is buried in the waters. I need to know his soul is at peace.” Mrs. Bonaro’s strength was waning. “He would never leave me. My son fell into the arms of that harlot. He is gone because of her.”
No! Stefano cried out. Anastasia would never hurt me. I am the murderer!
“I only wish that I could bring her back to life, so that I could kill her as well,” his mother declared. She pulled out a lock of hair, wrapped it in cloth and allowed the parcel to singe to nothingness. “I hate the entire Soranzo family! May their souls not rest until I see my dear son again. I curse their lives and their generations to come.”
Rage made him a viable threat. The angrier he became, the more his abilities came alive. Upon feeling his vibrations, Stefano paused. The room became silent. He started moving once again. Nothing . . .
Mrs. Bonaro looked around, her eyes briefly settling across the room. She stared down her co-conspirators.
“I curse the spirit of Anastasia Soranzo, until my son is found and his soul is at rest.”
Stefano wailed. He began tossing aside every object that he could grasp: lamps, cups, figurines. With each step, Stefano was able to incite fear in the inhabitants, except for his mother. The other women cowered together, slowly backing away from the fluttering candle.
To this madman’s dismay, Mrs. Bonaro continued on. Each declaration she made cut through her son’s heart. She shred and tormented, unaware of what was at stake. While the four women stood clear across the room, his mother sat at the table with her back facing him. Stefano lunged for her. His fingers pressed down into her shoulders. As he sunk into the silky fabric of her dress, he felt empowered. With little fight, Stefano managed to elevate her. The other women raced from the room. They knocked into one another on the way out. Mrs. Bonaro swiped at her neck, screaming as loudly as possible. Stefano’s fingers tightened around her neck. She dangled from his grip, swatting at her invisible tormentor. The more she fought, the weaker she became. Life faded, overcome by darkness.
“Why do you make me hurt you, Mama?” Stefano shouted. “Mama . . . Mama.” His words were swarmed with guttural sobs. He felt her limbs weaken, and turned her around to lift her chin.
His finger moved.
“Mama? Do you see me?” He withdrew his hands. It was too easy to manipulate her body. He tried to hear a sound or sense some type of movement.
But it was too late and she could not respond.
Stefano’s mother’s death did not affect him as much as losing Anastasia. But this was a pivotal point in his afterlife. Killing Mrs. Bonaro made him realize that as a soul crossed over from life to death, it was capable of connecting with immortal beings.
When he left his home, Stefano wandered through the town. His head hung low, the outside world had little effect on him. With nightlife came added tourists and increased frustrations. Stefano wanted to trample into everyone, show them all that he existed. But they were too caught up in enjoying life.
Stefano strolled through his beautiful city. He stood in the center of St. Mark’s Square, remembering the Ascension Day ceremony his family had attended with Anastasia’s family. Stefano thought back to Venezia’s marriage to the Adriatic Sea. This not only symbolized their country’s union, to Stefano it also solidified the union between the Bonaro and Soranzo families.
“Why?” Stefano shouted to the sky, sobbing as he repeated this question again and again. He finally dropped onto the ground and remained there. As the ceremonies came to an end, Stefano faded back to nothingness.
Since that first day, when he awoke face down in the water, he returned to the scene every year on carnival until it was banned just before the turn of the century. When the festivities began once more, Stefano was awoken by its sounds as before. As the visitors and locals readied themselves, he was brought back from hell. Made to suffer without his one true love. Initially, Stefano could not understand why his soul could not remain damned in the pit. The first awakening was the most difficult. It was as though he were called back from the dead, but only his spirit responded. But as the years progressed, he learned to accept his time on earth.
Stefano was slowly being depleted. Though he was not a huge fan of carnival, he still became violently jealous of the men that walked around, flaunting lavish gold and black suits. He even despised their majestic capes in tow. And he only continued to wither away in the dingy clothing of his death.
Stefano passed through alliances, angered at their happiness. He strolled through the streets and buildings, longing for true human interaction.
No one even noticed when he paused beside the gamblers and onlookers at play. Although he made it a point to mark everyone, they easily dismissed the unknown. He moved with ease and displayed the right type of manners. Yet whereas they all sought total enjoyment from the merriment, he had a different kind of need.
Stefano needed reminders of his human life. Seeing everyone’s joy only added to his frustration. Friends complimenting one other . . . toasting rounds of potent spirits . . . exaggerated laughter. The display was torturous to say the least. And although he wanted them all to pay for his misfortunes, the jealousy that had infested his soul over these years made him feel relevant. So Stefano fed it during these public events. Whether sneering at the crowds in St. Mark’s Square, the Bridge of Sighs or throughout the many alleyways, Stefano had no choice but to be content in his eternal chamber.
As he turned to exit from another location, there she stood. A mortal angel. She was a fixture amongst the bustling carnival goers. Whereas many of the other women were plastered across winged chairs, some piled on one another in overly jubilant displays, this beauty remained friendless. As some women basked in the companionship of their men; not due to a lack of appeal, she stood alone. Her sole companion was a bright red flower that was easily distinguishable.
Stefano stood in front of her, determined to be her unseen escort. His fingers caressed her face, though she felt naught. He sniffed what little of her golden locks he could, as her tresses were secure in a bun. Very little of her bustling figure was exposed, though her pointed chin and firm upper neck led him to believe that she was young and prized. He wondered if she was amongst the common residents. No one could know, since there were no class restrictions during carnival. Many blended easily and were unafraid to wear the garb of all things immoral. Yet she only continued to silently study the rooms.
After several minutes had passed, the woman let out a sigh and rushed through the door. Her slippers pounded against the pavement. Stefano followed in full pursuit. He trailed close by, eventually ending up at her side, adjacent to the main docks. She stopped at the edge, briefly teetering. It was all on purpose.
Is she looking to end her life? Though Stefano had come to appreciate his situation, he would not wish it on anyone. Being stuck between life and salvation was a lonely place.
The woman started sobbing. Anguish vibrated through the wavering air. Stefano wanted to be of comfort, though his normal stance was typically the exact opposite. He understood the guttural cries of rejection. His entire existence was based on it. And as she cried, he joined in her pain. Stefano could relate to this poor lonely woman. He created a friendship, a binding need. He was lost and alone, even depressed. The same could be said of his new friend.
She eventually backed away from the edge, plopping down on the stony ground. Stefano had become so fixated on her that he didn’t realize they were no longer alone.
“Byanca?” a baritone voice sounded from behind Stefano.
She immediately rose, using the sparkling material of her gown to hide her tears. The stranger helped her from the ground. Her rose drifted to the pavement.
“Were you crying?” the man asked.
“Carlino . . .” She fell into his arms.
“Why did you leave, mio amore?” Carlino towered over Byanca. He was a burly fellow that could potentially swallow up the woman, though she was sizeable herself. “I could not leave Violletta without making her suspicious. A change of my mask alone would not suffice. She would know my deceit.” Carlino patted and drew attention to his potbelly.
“Very well. You are with me now.” Byanca threw her arms about his large waistline. They swaddled against one another.
Stefano was initially confused. When his stalking victim had first rushed into the arms of this intruder, Stefano had stared in disbelief. His sadness momentarily subsided while he sought to make sense of their conversation.
She . . . Byanca, is supposed to be like me.
We are lonely souls.
She wanted to take her life.
Is that not her reason for standing at the edge?
When Stefano finally stood up, the couple was suckling like animals. He paced around them, frustrated in their happiness. The man had taken away his companion. The woman had jilted him, much like the way Anastasia had done so long ago. And with each step, Stefano’s feet began thudding. He didn’t believe in taking advantage of his ghostly abilities to spook anyone. That was never his hope, but today was different. Byanca had used him, and apparently for a married man! How dare she cry on his shoulders, only to plunge back into this cheater’s arms? And although Byanca was not aware of this unspoken friendship and unseen occupant, she was already tied to the spirit’s madness.
As Stefano’s stomp came to life for the pair, they halted.
“Did the pier shake?” Byanca asked.
“Impossible.” Carlino placed her behind him, looking around in search of an explanation. With the exception of the celebrations in the distance, the muffled sounds could do little damage. “Stay here,” he commanded. His gaze stretched from one end of the canal to the other. He inched forward, hands spread along his sides. A costume of brass only made him a spectacle, Stefano considered. And the longer he stared at this disturbance, the greater Stefano’s disdain.
“Bastard!” Stefano yelled, placing his hands against the cheater’s lower back and shoving Carlino out into the water. He became swamped all at once. Drenched and fighting desperately to stay afloat, Carlino gurgled. His hands splattered against the top of the waves. He struggled in vain. Unable to swim, he tried looking around for a gondola. Not a single one was in close proximity since he was well into the canal.
Byanca screamed into the chilly night air, rotating between her love’s position and the path they’d taken to end up on the pier.
Carlino grunted. Eyes widening, he prompted Byanca. “Be-beside . . . gho . . .”
The more he struggled to remain above water, the more determined the underground forces became. And with the addition of wet fabric clinging to his portly frame, his fate was inevitable. Carlino’s body sank quickly, while a plump finger pointed to the side of Byanca’s head. As death tagged him within seconds of hitting the waters, he entered an in-between realm, allowing him to see his murderer.
Byanca landed on the ground, desperately sobbing and reaching toward her lover. Stefano happily comforted her by stooping at her side. Though his countenance now shone, he gladly welcomed her sadness once again.
Time could not rid Stefano of Anastasia’s beauty, nor of her delicate essence and melodic tone. No matter where his spirit roamed, he would be confronted with even the slightest of memories. The images never ceased, the triggers remained ever-present.
Stefano chose to overlook the dreaded reminder of their earlier fate so long ago. Instead he held out hope. Just as he had returned, Stefano hoped that someday Anastasia would as well. Every now and again, a figure would present itself. Be it when he strolled along the many alleyways and portals, contemplating that fated day, or even when he frequented the busy venues of carnival. Her pleading blue irises he’d always find. Similarly, curly blond tresses he’d trail behind. Her gently swaying figure, presumably unknown to many men, would taunt. And upon bursting through with sadistic urgencies, disappointment would present itself time and again.
Another year, another Carnem Levare had begun. This annual celebration held promise, as well as a reminder of that dreaded night. Stefano, however, used it to mark the day his life became unworthy, unholy and inhumane. As the festivities triggered his return to the location of his wrongdoings, Stefano wept.
This time, things were no different. His crimes remained entrenched in his mind, forcing him to relive every deed during his sleepless nights of carnival. And no matter how he found the urges, his initial lust remained.
The night’s air was enticing. Lowly sounds, whispers of love, easily overpowered the brash noises of carnival. His journey was tainted amongst the living. He constantly scorned their happiness and cursed them.
As with any other time, he hunted the paths. A pair stood nearby, holding hands. While the man playfully ran his palms along the lower half of his belle’s exposed wrists, she giggled. With each sound, Stefano grew angrier. The torture was too similar to Anastasia’s. He would even draw into the woman’s face, too close to really truly see her. Yet no matter how he presented himself into her space, she would never be able to acknowledge his existence.
Stefano had spent ages seeking out replications of his once beloved fiancée. He would shoot explicit words into the open air; wrap his arms around his target’s waist and cry for all the ages. But none of this mattered because they never heard him and certainly never felt him, at least not under normal circumstances.
His anger had manifested to the height of bitterness. So while partaking of this couple’s private moment, Stefano experienced something that had eluded him since death had changed his life: Electrified human contact. During his course of taunting, his nails happened along the young lady’s chin, drawing along the edges. She jolted. Her eyes widened. She reached upwards, touching the very same spot. Apparently unsatisfied, she removed her gloves to again caress the spot. Stefano reached forward as well.
There . . . again.
“Can we leave, Bastiano?” Her voice quivered. She quickly gazed around, then removed the mask that had covered the top half of her face.
Stefano gasped. She was the splitting image of Anastasia. Tears immediately filled his eyes. He placed his arms around her. She swatted.
“Are you ill?” Bastiano asked. As Stefano’s spirit cuddled from her side, this man bypassed the invisible stranger. In the land of the living, Bastiano was oblivious to timeless occurrences. “Speak to me, Anastasia.”
Stefano could not believe what he heard and saw . . . his true love. He did not know how to accept hearing her name, knowing that after searching, she was finally in his presence again. But as the man continued speaking and reassuring his Anastasia, offering his support for her ailment, Stefano’s emotions turned dark.
My Anastasia promised eternal love . . .
He couldn’t determine how, but finally Anastasia was alive. She was breathing, moving amongst the living. He was dead, trapped in an in-between world. This was perhaps an eternal punishment for his sins, although the punishment only allowed him to grow darker.
As Stefano continued to cuddle Anastasia, Bastiano did the same, the unknown element refusing to retreat. And so, Anastasia grew wearier. She shivered and weakened with each passing moment.
Bastiano started to direct her away. Stefano had no choice but to unhand her. The couple maneuvered through the crowds, pausing from time to time only momentarily. Everyone was jolly, celebrating the season, unaware of the heartbreak.
“Come back to me, Anastasia!” Stefano shouted behind them. It was more difficult for him to follow, as tears quickly blocked his sight. The patrons piled on, filling the streets and killing any hope of reaching her. His abilities could have transported him nearer to them, but today was different. He was thrown into remembering a mortal existence. He’d forgotten what it felt like to care, to love and even to breathe. Seeing Anastasia, however, after a lifetime of emptiness, Stefano’s emotions flowed again. Tears plummeted down his face, and although life had not existed for far too long, he could almost feel a heartbeat. Moreover, there was a paining, much similar to the time when he had first lost his soul mate, Anastasia.
He still pursued on, although it would be in vain. And as he became unsettled in this fruitless pursuit, the crowds exasperated him. They were everywhere, all at once. Everyone was a bother. Their colors were distractions. Their very presence was speedily causing him to become unsettled. Frustration rode him as death now kept him from mortality. Circumstances . . . anger . . . flesh . . . blood.
His head swayed. Refusing to give up the pursuit, he pressed on. The many variations of carnival, the brightest of colors and deepest of darkness stifled. And just when even the slightest of hope had completely disappeared from sight, Stefano cursed into the air.
Annabelle Soranzo could see heartache when heartache was the furthest thing from her mind. The entire family knew this. Her parents were not at all pleased that she had been born with a veil. It allowed her to communicate with some of the darkest spirits imaginable. The more she rejected this “gift”, the stronger her ties with the spirit world. She thought that in fleeing the beauty and comfort of Venezia, she would somehow be free of what she believed to be a curse. Annabelle had temporarily found peace in some of the South American countries, amongst the Amazon’s inhabitants. She’d even found solace in the deepest regions on the African continent.
Then family called on her. Annabelle’s cousin Anastasia, who was two years younger, had found a way to potentially break the curse.
“I never wanted this. People say I’m clairvoyant. It sounds good, no? Do you understand what it means for me?” Annabelle had shouted at Anastasia. “Twenty eight years of this nightmare. More than fifty countries. I even speak several languages fluently.”
“That all makes you special . . . at least to me.” Anastasia knew how the family felt. They called on Annabelle for those touchy subjects, yet in all actuality, they were nervous in her presence. Outsiders, on the other hand, worshiped all that her elder cousin was capable of. “I asked you to return home, in hopes of ridding you of this burden.”
“Anything that has worked has been a temporary fix. I need this lifted entirely.” Her cinnamon-shaded irises glassed over.
“Like you, Belle, I’ve been part of this torture. Our distant cousin, from who knows when, has been plaguing my dreams. I have somehow taken on her life at night. Since I turned nineteen, I’ve dreamt about being drowned by some kind of madman. In the dream, I was never able to completely die. My soul remained in my body, only to experience what this hateful man was doing.”
“Ana, why haven’t you told me of this before now?”
“I didn’t want them to send me away.” Anastasia lowered her head and tossed it from one side to the other. Several strands of golden spirals rocked about her face. “It wasn’t until Bastiano woke me one night as I pled with my torturer. My husband was beside himself. He wanted to know who this Stefano was. I’d been begging Stefano for mercy.” At the memory of the scene, her body quaked. Annabelle, who had been seated on a cream chaise, rushed over to rest at the edge of the love seat next to her mother’s youngest niece.
“What made you reach out to me now?” Annabelle asked, capturing her younger cousin’s palms.
“I’m sorry Belle . . .” she mouthed through pursed pink lips.
“For what, Ana?”
“I could relate to your condition. I saw what you saw.”
Annabelle immediately released Anastasia’s hands, feeling the sting of deception.
“And yet you allowed me to face it alone? Those who embraced me did so of their own selfish desires. Those who rejected me . . . out of disdain.”
“I didn’t want to be shunned.”
“So you joined the others in shunning me?”
“I’m sorry, Annabelle.”
“I’m sure you are, Anastasia.”
Neither moved from this less than comfortable seat and position. The enlightened one turned to gaze over the balcony, trying desperately not to present a defeated façade. While the desperate one freely sobbed in shame.
Stefano’s emotions were conflicted. He found solace in hope, fury in pain, and emptiness in rejection. He was taken back to that first awakening, when the annual torture thrust him out of the dark world. Anastasia was ever present: a reminder of how he’d lived and how he’d died.
His gaze passed around the open streets. The pavements were filled with celebrations. Everyone sated, thrilled, sloshed and happily unaware of Stefano’s devastation. His eyes roamed from one to another, and another still. Unsure of what he was looking for, he finally settled on a couple. The woman wore one of the brightest of gowns, trimmed with silver outlines. Her reins had been pulled, so much so, that her waistline equated to a mere plank. From his angle, a mere five footsteps away, the woman’s chin bore through the lower part of her white mask. The object was meant to shade her entirely, but the protrusion of her chin couldn’t be easily covered. Moreover, she appeared to be in constant communication with her companion. He was covered in similar manner—white and silver. The major difference was his silver mask fully covering his face.
Their happiness was apparent as Stefano now stood directly in their presence. The man gently careened his fingers along her, and even fluffed at her gown. He treasured, perhaps even worshiped her.
“Have I told you how beautiful you are?”
Stefano cringed to hear the man’s profession.
The response she offered was a mere giggle. Stefano’s pores steamed. The sounds from behind her mask infuriated him. To him, there was little sincerity in exchange for this doting man. Stefano could almost envision himself similarly.
“Come with me,” the man encouraged his woman.
“Where to?” she asked, raising gloved hands to pat her chest.
She’s teasing you! Stefano shouted.
No one heard and no one cared to hear. After all, he didn’t exist to any of them.
“Up the path,” the man pleaded, capturing her finger. He paused momentarily, allowing his hand to rest against her slight peaks.
She contemplated, standing there as if it were the biggest decision she’d make in life.
“Come with me,” the stranger encouraged.
You will only get hurt by this woman, Stefano warned. He marched amongst them, pacing in circles, not stopping until the woman nodded.
They moved from their spot just off the Grand Canal, up and around a dark, silent passageway. The lights were dimming the further they drew away from the docks. The woman gazed back. Stefano mournfully followed. The man prompted his lover.
“We can have privacy,” the man’s voice dipped. There was a wavy shyness to his tone and words.
When they arrived at the edge of the waters, he pulled the reins on a lone gondola.
“Would you like to go out on the water?”
“In these clothes?” the female responded, giggling as before.
“We could always take them off.”
“I could never,” she offered.
Releasing the vessel, he approached her. His legs pressed inward. There was very little leverage, as her gown simply wouldn’t accommodate.
Stefano observed, impatiently pacing. He would pause from time to time, looking from the man to his woman.
The man then raised the woman’s mask, and golden brown curls cascaded about her shoulders and high-necked dress. She tossed about, drawing out deeper sounds; her behavior now marked of ecstasy. A dusting of illumination extended from a distant streetlamp. Its intrusion showed off a delicately freckled nose that was nearly as pointed as her chin. And even with those slight imperfections, Stefano became mesmerized. His anger subsided momentarily.
“I could love you forever.” Her suitor had taken off his gloves. He was now rubbing bare palms against her hair, fluffing and patting, revering and worshiping.
He moved his lips to hers, initially brushing them against hers. Their kiss deepened. In the distance, muffled melodic sounds did very little to disturb the couple as their hands trailed along heavy clothing. Her fingers rested at the nape of his sandy-brown plastered hair. His felt through the heavy silk material surrounding her breasts. They greedily exchanged moisture through panting mouths. Sensually charged moans and grunts filled their space.
Stefano stood very near, too near in fact. Jealously and longing were his companions. He adored the way that the young man’s affections reached the woman. After staring tirelessly at them fondle and kiss for minutes on end, he began crying. Stefano remembered the first day he made love to Anastasia. As young adults, they had given themselves purely out of love. That changed because of family and commitments. Though Anastasia had promised herself to him forever, his forever was far different to hers. He turned to relieve the couple.
“I love you forever,” the man professed. His words were mere mumblings, since his lips were still rather close to hers.
“And I love you for always,” was her response. Her words were louder, more endearing and almost too sincere.
Stefano, who had taken a handful of footsteps away, immediately stopped. The young woman’s words taunted, ringing in his ears, reminding him of when Anastasia had said the very same thing. For a moment he was rigid, contemplating his next move, although Stefano’s history foretold all. Once he decided, things quickly moved into motion.
Stefano reached for the man, tossing him aside. His head crashed against concrete walls. There was no further movement from the victim. In the meantime, she screamed out. Terror shot across her face. Rosy cheeks became blistering red. Streams of tears rolled down her face. She rushed for her lover, cradling his head against her midsection. His eyelids were shut. Her tears drenched his face, smearing his painted mask. His body was stiff; still.
“Help!” she cried out. Unwilling to seek out assistance, she rocked back and forth, surrounded by a puddle of extensive cloth. She was mortified to find light speckles of red on her glistening white dress. Her cries increased. Her woes were inconsolable. Every few seconds her head rose, trailing about the territory from left to right in search of salvation. No one came. At least no one came to help her cause.
The modern day Anastasia sat across from Annabelle. Their palms rested one against the other. The room was cold, dusky and remarkably eerie. The drapes hung low and wide. Be it night or day, the pair transformed to another realm.
Annabelle chanted, flowing in and out of several unfamiliar tongues. Anastasia remained silent; her fingers trembled. As this impromptu ceremony progressed, her fear could not be sustained. Her cousin was forced to wrap her fingers around. She pressed lightly . . . firmer . . . deeper.
Annabelle’s neck extended, dyed jet-black tresses flowed midway down her back.
Anastasia was unable to break their grip. She tried keeping her lids lowered, but as the shaking increased she found it difficult to concentrate.
Suddenly, the room silenced, matching the shallowness that Anastasia had experienced for countless years. She no longer felt any connection to her cousin; no longer saw her; no longer heard her.
Anastasia found herself engulfed in a sea. Murky waters thrust against her face. She fought to keep her eyes wide. She choked, fighting desperately to keep the fluid out of her mouth. This was a fruitless attempt because in shutting her mouth, her nostrils naturally took in the threat.
She coughed, gagged.
No longer seated, she floated around in the darkness, unable to fend for life. Death’s embrace drew near, and then she was yanked up. Distant lights shone into her face, and though it burned she welcomed the disturbance.
A man held onto her body, kissed her lips and spoke swiftly.
“My love? My love? I did not mean to hurt you. Stay with me! Death be gone!”
Death? She fought to move but couldn’t.
“Anastasia, I won’t live alone.” His tears mingled with her moisture.
It was then that Anastasia realized that she was no longer Anastasia of the twentieth century.
Stefano wandered into the square, gazing out upon the waves. He wished to inhale the sweet breezes and feel the mists against his face, but he was not real and could not ever again make it so. Seeing Anastasia earlier in the night had done something to his cause. His past of taking life after life in hopes of interactions beyond the afterlife rode heavily. He had set out to kill, prolonging his victim’s demise. As life faded, they were able to see him. Only then—not before and never after. So Stefano would dangle them at the edge and bring them back. This way, he felt relevant.
The following night, as the excitement built, Stefano returned to the streets. No matter how deep his disdain, Stefano could not help but marvel at the various costumes. There was no telling who was hidden beneath them. There were even rumors that men were donning frocks and wigs in order to rob unsuspecting women. Their true genders remained beneath large petticoats, wearing the costumes of shameless thieves. But Stefano was not interested in fighting crime. For tonight, he was hoping that Anastasia would return to the masquerade, though he didn’t know how she would stand out.
Stefano sat at the steps. An hour passed. Every time he grew impatient, he would begin humming the lines of a popular tune Al di la. He remembered hearing a gentleman bellowing out this popular song. The words drove him crazy at the time, though they were now of comfort.
As Stefano hummed of his love being “far above” he felt enlightened and hopeful. He swayed, eventually standing up from the steps and dancing back to the center of the square. The crowd had dissipated down to a handful of couples. At the center, a woman twirled in a golden costume. Her hands magically glided, reaching outwards in delicate expressions. She appeared to be welcoming a lover, though she was alone. Stefano was captivated. He stalked her out, still spewing his song of love. As he stood within inches of this splendid nightingale, the wind carried a melodious tone.
“Al di la, I wondered as I drifted where you were . . .”
Stefano fell to the ground, kneeling before the songstress. And he knew. Without full sight, as she was completely swallowed in heavy gear, Stefano knew who this was.
“Anastasia . . .” he cried.
“Anastasia?” He stood up.
She took flight, racing slowly away from the square. Stefano followed. Anastasia didn’t stop running until she barreled into the arms of another man.
“We must go . . . now!” Anastasia cried out.
Bastiano had been standing with a group of men, carrying on loudly while deep in spirits.
Stefano approached Anastasia from behind, connecting with draped arms, trying desperately to hold her back. The touch was electrifying. Anastasia leapt into Bastiano’s unsuspecting hands.
“Calm down, love.” Bastiano appeared annoyed, frustrated as he placed her aside. He led her away from the crowds. She babbled on and on about sensing darkness in their midst. Stefano stayed near, following them to an all too familiar location—the docks.
“What is going on with you, Anastasia?” Bastiano held tight to her wrists, yanking her into his chest.
Stefano tried to remove the man’s grip, but was only able to feel the sting from Anastasia’s fingers. She twitched.
“Can we leave this cursed place, Bastiano?”
“I sense something, perhaps someone—”
“You wanted carnival this year. We are here and not leaving until it’s over.” Bastiano was desperately trying to remain patient. The liquor caused him to ramble and sway. He’d take several steps and then paused to beg her patience.
Anastasia drifted to the ground and wept gently at first. Her cries grew.
“Stop it, Anastasia!” Bastiano stooped beside her. He shook her, tossing her backward and forward. Her mask and crown came undone. When she would not end the shameful pleas, Bastiano shoved her aside.
Stefano became overtaken with rage. He shouted at the culprit, placed his arms around Bastiano and forced him into the water. Anastasia, who had been despondent, finally raised her head in time to see Bastiano go over the edge. And she still remained silent. Though he was able to swim on normal occasions, being drunk hindered this ability. Anastasia stood at the edge of the pier, glancing down as her present soul mate fought for his life. She was too afraid to do anything to the contrary. Even when the water overtook his body, all she could do was stare in amazement.
“Anastasia?” Stefano blew into her face, her hair.
Tears rolled down her cheeks, eyelids lay shut. “Who are you?” she finally asked the tyrant. Her body was still fixated on the canal.
“I am your forever. We were lovers a long time ago.”
“Show yourself.” Her voice quivered as she finally turned.
Stefano wasn’t sure how he would accomplish that task. Typically, near-death experiences would open sight. For now, he could only hope. Stefano brushed his lips against Anastasia. Instead of pulling away, she leaned in and felt his touch. He held her face, desperately tasting. They carried on for several minutes, and when he pulled away, it was obvious that Anastasia could see him.
“You remember me?” His words were a flood of emotions as he sought to contain his tears.
“My love . . . you’ve been waiting for me?” Anastasia’s fingers ran alongside Stefano’s cheeks and lips. She moved him around, humming the words of their earlier song. They danced.
“Can we go in the water?”
Of course Stefano could not deny his true love’s request, especially after what he had done so long ago. And so he sailed her out into the waters, quite like that dreaded night, so long ago.
“Do you forgive me, Anastasia?”
“Love can make us do anything, Stefano.”
He stopped moving the oar, placing it against the vessel. They rushed into one another’s arms.
“Do you remember what I said to you then, Stefano?”
“Let’s forget about the past, Anastasia. Live for tonight.”
“It was on this same night, Stefano. You killed me in A similar boat, at this exact time. But you see, I can be reborn. You, on the other hand, will remain in darkness for your sins.”
“Anastasia . . .” He could not speak or fight with her. She had taken hold of his clothing. Stefano could not understand how this was possible. No one had been able to penetrate his barrier. It had always been him that held the power.
“Stefano, how many women have you killed?”
“I only needed companionship—”
“So you killed them?” she shouted, spraying saliva into his face. His tormentor held onto the back of his head and forced it under the flowing current. As Stefano’s head became submerged, he noticed an array of bodies floating below sea level. He gasped, feeling as though he were drowning. He had already died so long ago. His sins flashed before him. Every single woman he had held beneath the sea. After death had presented itself on those occasions, Stefano would pull them from the water, forcing each woman to acknowledge him. This would go on as long as possible, until they succumbed to his torture.
Face after face; cries upon cries; pleas followed by more pleas, Stefano tortured for the sake of his selfish desires. As his eyes dipped beneath the rising tide, he saw expressionless faces of the dead and became chilled by their souls’ cries. Many of his victims’ faces could not be matched with names; in fact, he could not even place their demise. Though Stefano was certain it had occurred. Yes, he was responsible for taking their lives.
“You no longer deserve to roam the earth. II know all that you have done. You are no longer cursed to roam Venezia. I am here to permanently secure your place in hell and break this sick curse on my family.” In a flurry of rage, her wig fell into the water revealing jet-black tresses. Stefano fought to be free, returning to the surface to momentarily catch a glimpse of the devil that was capable of claiming his life, even through death.
Thank you for previewing this companion story, Carnem Levare. I hope you enjoyed the story so far.
Full Novel Coming Soon…
Jaxx Summers is the type of person many wish to be: uninhibited and unafraid of creating her own version of fact and truth, whenever necessary. I guess you can say that Jaxx is in the perfect field. She loves the written word and its capabilities, while forcing readers to let themselves loose in unforgettable worlds she weaves with tapestries of words.
Finding this world often too monotonous and uninspiring to settle for every single day, Jaxx strives to surround herself with supernatural and paranormal memorabilia through her books.
In 2014 Jaxx published her first title, Samaria: Warrior Princess, as a paranormal writer. She previously explored relationships and culture, prior to taking on the alter ego of Jaxx Summers. This versatile author enjoys exploring the limitless potential of the unknown, while showcasing a variety of regions.
Connect with Jaxx Summers:
Facebook: [+ https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jaxx-Summers/447093932056780?ref=br_tf+]
Carnem Levare: Rebirth of Infatuation (Companion story) Follow up novel coming in 2016... We are born, live and eventually leave the mortal world. For Stefano Bonaro the same can be said, with a powerful exception. He was born to live and love in Venice, beyond death. Stefano is passionately in love with Anastasia Soranzo. They grew up with the promise of a future together, through family bonds and emotional ties. Then suddenly their lives are torn apart by unforgivable deception. For the sake of family, Stefano and Anastasia can no longer have a future together. While Anastasia can easily move on, Stefano refuses to do so. During Eighteenth Century Carnival, Stefano seals his faith when he commits a crime of passion that ends with him even taking his own life. But this is not the end for the jilted lover, when he is suddenly brought back to life a year later. Stefano's spirit continues to hope in love, even as he becomes ruled by madness. But will it ever truly end for Stefano Bonaro?