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A Heart for Valentine
by Parteepants and Crowe

(Warning, horror, language - Rated R)

A blast of cold air strikes Debra Valentine and it instantly chills her cheeks and causes her eyes to water.

"I hate working till closing," she thinks as she wipes a black strand of hair from her eyes. When she turns to lock the employee exit's door, she is given a brief respite from February's brutal weather. Or at least her front is, but her back is immediately chilled. She attempts to warm her cheeks by pulling the black lapels of her long, wool jacket up, but to no avail. With the door locked, she turns again to face the snow covered parking lot.

Since only the employees of the mall park behind it, and most of those had already gone home, the parking lot is rather empty, the few cars that remain are blanketed in thick sheets of white. She realizes it must have snowed again while she was selling cheap woman's shoes to crotchety old ladies, and worse yet, snotty young ones.

"Christ, I don't get paid enough," she thinks as she tentatively staggers towards her car. Each of her steps are accompanied
by the sound of crunching ice, and while her leather bottomed shoes match her black dress suit, they don't offer much traction on this slippery
terrain.

Even still, the thought of falling is the least of her worries. A recent rash of killings has left the town nearly frozen in fear. It's understandable, though. Three people have turned up with their chests cut open and their hearts removed. This hits Debra very close to home. She was born with a bit of a weak heart. It is so severe that even the slightest scare has a dramatic effect on her fragile organ. Her doctors have warned that she may need a replacement if her condition doesn't improve. Secondly, her boyfriend Brian seems to have vanished, not that this is anything new. He frequently runs off on hunting expeditions or skiing trips. His degree of impulsiveness is only equaled by his insensitivity.

The blaring of the horn comes out of nowhere, causing her to scream and turn in its direction. Frightfully, she is staring into the bright eyes of a tall truck's grill. The massive red demon is pushing a yellow wedge plow before it. As it charges toward her, snow is forced out towards its sides. Debra dodges and narrowly avoids the plow's crushing blow.

The truck continues forward about thirty yards before it comes to a screeching halt. Its brakes bathe her in red and lights the way to her car.

As she hurriedly scuttles to her vehicle's safety, she notices the trucks massive wheels are wearing thick steel chains for traction.

"Christ," she thinks and hurriedly brushes the snow from her windshield with a single arm's swipe, "How could I not hear that coming? Was I that lost in thought?"

She jams her key into her door and is starting to climb inside when she hears his voice. She has heard it since childhood and recognizes it instantly.

"Leroy, what the fuck do you want now?" she questions under her breathe. Her car has come to life and she begins to move forward, grateful that she has parked ass end in, when she notices the box the he holds out before him. It's red with a white ribbon, and it immediately transports her back in time.

In her mind's eye, she is kneeling on an elementary school's playground and Leroy is approaching her with his right arm concealing something behind his back. There's a sparkle in his blue eyes that let you know he sees the world a little bit differently. Many of her peers refer to him as lunatic Leroy, but Debra has always tried to see his other side, his kind side, and on that day she paid the price.

When he was within arm's reach, he shouted "Happy Birthday, Debra! You're the love of my life." The entire playground heard his announcement, and turned to see his gift.

Leroy whipped his arm around his body, and presented her with a bouquet. Not of roses, or pansies or even weeds, but of something much dearer to him. In his tiny, dirt covered hand he held six, large pink worms that struggled against his grip. Immediately she was serenaded by her peer's laughter while she ran from the playground.

Despite this situation being so similar, she wars against her manners as she brings her car to a halt. Leroy is within only a few feet, and through the darkness, she sees the strange twinkle in his eyes.

"Oh my god," his gruff voice crackles, "I'm so sorry Debra. I couldn't,...didn't see you. Are you ok?"

"Y-y-y-yes-s-s, Leroy," she answers through rattling lips. "I'm f-f-fine, but I'm f-f-freezing."

"It's ok, it'll only take a minute. I made you a valentine's gift. I know I shouldn't be doing this, but I know Brian's not around and, well, I thought this might make you feel better."

As he hands her the package, she notices that it's cold. "What is in this thing?" She asks. "A block of ice."

"No," he smiles in his own weird way. "Just something that needs to be kept chilled."

She takes the package and is about to set it on her seat when Leroy asks, "Hey, could you open it now? I really worked hard on it, and I'd love to see your reaction, ya know?"

She stares into his face, with its oversized nose and nearly invisible lips, and regrettably agrees. She pulls the present into her lap, and removes the bow. The heater has started to blow, but it is unable to displace the cold air from the window or the coldness of the package. She tears at the paper, and pulls open the flaps to reveal several plastic bags full of ice.

"What the hell is this?" she asks. "A joke?"

"No, Debra. You have to move the bags. I told you it needed to be cold."

Her hand nervously feels beneath the freezing bags and she touches the cold, smooth surface of a glass jar. Because of its size, she plunges her left hand into the box and removes the gift that only Leroy would dare to give.

Within the jar, is a vibrant, red heart? It is obviously human, and Debra feels her own swelling within her chest. A pressure builds between her ears and for a moment she thinks she may faint.

"Do you like it?" Leroy asks proudly, but this unusual question pushes her into action. She throws the jar and its contents on her passenger seat, and immediately begins to scream. The jar bounces after impact, and the gruesome organ escapes its container. Both jar and heart end up, broken on her floor, but Debra has yet to notice. She has slammed her foot on the gas, and as her car rockets from her parking slot, she becomes acutely aware of a light post's concrete base and that there is no way to avoid it.

Debra does her best to move the old car out of harms way, but the tail end slides and smashes into the lamp post, nearly spinning her the other way. Her head cracks down on the steering wheel allowing blood to rush down her face. She wrestles the car for control. Her is heart pounding so loudly she is sure she could hear it. She stomps the pedals and pulls out of the parking lot, with Leroy's monstrous truck following behind.

She can barely keep the old Buick on the road. It isn't a bad first car, but now she really wishes she had that Eclipse she is saving for. At least it would do half the work of avoiding parked cars. But this land barge is making it impossible. "Common, Common!" she cries out. She knows if she can make it to somewhere people are at, she'll be okay. If she gets lucky, she might even run across a cop.

Leroy isn't giving up. He is gunning full on. Crashing frantically into cars trying to over take Debra. He isn't going to let her get away with this. Not after what he's done for her. All the trouble he's gone through to make her happy. For every car Debra manages to miss, Leroy mangles two. He moves close enough to nudge her car a couple of times before she gets on a good straight away and pulls out in front of him.

"Go you piece of shit car, go!" Debra yells as she leaps onto the highway. The bridge is just up ahead, and cars are coming in both directions. "Thank god" Debra sighs. But in her rear view, the red beast is still closing behind her. She floors it for the bridge. She can feel her heart pounding. Her arm has a slight tingle which only scares her more. Leroy moves close enough to nudge her again. And again. And the last tiny tap sends her spinning onto the bridge. She crashes into the railing and nearly goes off the side. The windshield shatters, as well as most of the other windows. Her head is bleeding more now. But someone stops to see if she is okay. Before she blacks out, she sees Leroy pull slowly away.

* * *

Joe puts down the paper and looks at his watch. Debra is running late again and didn't call. "She knows better", he thinks as he
gets up to go to the garage. He picks up the cordless and heads out. The garage has been converted into a rec room which has a used pool table, a dart board and Joe's weight bench. He likes to working out before he has to get into it with Debra. It gives him a chance to calm down and to hopefully avoid saying something he might regret. He knows he has a bad temper, but since Debra's mother passed away, he hasn't wanted to waste any time fighting with his daughter. She is all he has left and he isn't going to be the one to push her away.

Joe sets the phone down beside his bench, and starts pushing some reps. Working out usually make him feel better, but he just can't shake the butterflies that are in his stomach tonight. Something just doesn't feel right. He works harder than he usually does, trying to push it out of his mind, still, he just can't shake it.

The phone rings and Joe nearly throws the weights to the floor.

"Shit", he yells as he picks it up. "Debra, you're in big trouble little... "

The lady on the other end of the phone interrupts him in mid sentence.

"Mr. Valentine, this is Angela Peters, I'm with the hospital. Sir, there's been an accident with your daughter."

"Wha.. What? Is she okay? What happened? My God, is she alright?"

"Sir, calm down. I don't have all the details, the nurse on duty will be able to answer all your questions."

Joseph's hands are shaking. He hangs up the phone and grabs his jacket and keys. He jumps into his car and starts it up. He sits
for several minutes, shaking his head. "This is not happening, this can't be happening."

He does everything he can to calm himself and pulls out of the driveway. He keeps telling himself to calm down, that everything will be all right. But that sick feeling in his stomach taunts him the entire drive to the hospital.

Joe nearly hits an ambulance pulling into the emergency room parking lot. He slams the car into park, runs inside and heads to the desk to find out where his daughter is.

"Sir, if you'll go down that hall and to your right. Someone will be with you in just a minute."

"Thanks", Joe responds as he quickly makes his way down the hall.

He is in such a hurry, he nearly knocks some kid over who has just come out of the restroom.

"Sorry", Joe says, slowing down just enough to speak.

Joe makes it to the waiting room. The doctor isn't there and Joe begins pacing back and forth. He tries to push back the terrible thoughts that are running through his head. Every time he hears a noise, he looks to see if it's Debra coming through the doors. This is tearing him up inside.

Leroy guides the wheelchair silently down the hallway. The corridor lies in the bowels of the hospital and it is devoid of patients, doctors, and nurses. Only the gentle hum of generators and air conditioning units are present while he escorts Debra to his truck. For Leroy, everything seems to be falling into place.

He had entered the hospital shortly after Debra's ambulance, and he was surprised by how calmly he had walked up to the receptionist. He stood before her blinking with feigned nervousness as he spun his web of lies. He had told her he was a new employee who was unfortunately late on his very first night. He asked her where he might find the orderly scrubs he was in need of and who he should he report to. The elderly lady looked him over with tired, but sympathetic, eyes and told him everything he needed to know.

After lifting the green scrubs from the changing room, he then searched out a wheelchair. He wasn't sure what condition Debra was in, but she certainly looked unconscious when the rescue crew commandeered her from the car.

After locating a wheelchair and her room, he would have to wait a total of twenty minutes for the hospital staff to leave her unattended. With the swiftness of a snake, he seized the opportunity and zipped into her room. She was laying quietly on the bed before he had moved her into the two wheeled chariot with all the tenderness of a mother carrying their new borne babe. Never once did she stir during the entire transfer. He grabbed a small blanket and wrapped it around her body to fight off the cold. Then he wheeled her out of the room, toward the backend of the hospital and the security door he had already disabled.

In a comforting tone, he says, "Don't worry Debra you'll soon be safe." The words dreadfully hang in the air as he swings the door open. A cold blast of wintry air barges into the corridor and chills his skin. He pushes her into the parking lot, which is only used for deliveries and therefore, is deserted. His truck idles on the side of the building and with the click of his remote the doors unlock. He opens the door and a wave of warm air greets him. He gently lifts her into the passenger seat and belts her in. He folds the chair and stores it in the truck's bed for later use. He then slips into the vehicle and puts it in drive as he thinks, "Debra, you're finally mine."

He places his hand on her thigh. With this fantasy realized, he is certain that his others will be too.


* * *

Joe wipes his hands over his face. He is fighting the urge to lash out atthe doctors. He knows it isn't their fault, but he feels like blaming someone. "How does something like this happen" he asks, his hands trembling with anger, fear, and the sinking feeling that he will never see his daughter again.

"How does someone just waltz into a hospital and take whatever they want, and just walk out, where the fuck was security?"

"Sir, I don't know how this happened. This has never happened before. The security chief is looking at all the tapes now and his people are checking with the staff to find anything out of the ordinary. If you'll come with me, you can help view the security tapes."

It isn't long before Joe puts it all together. The police tell him that a boy from school is the one that ran her into the bridge. A witness had copied down his license plate. When they show him Leroy's picture his heart sinks. He remembers seeing the punk in the hall when he had come into the hospital. The kid was wearing scrubs so he didn't even think twice about him. Now, putting his name with the face, he can remember all the times Debra had come home in tears because of this boy. Joe can no longer contain his anger. He tears out of the hospital and heads to the address listed on the report. He knocks frantically and when no one responds with the quickness Joe is wanting. He kicks the door open and runs inside. Sitting in front of the television is an older, out of shape man. His gut is hanging over his open pants and a beer is cradled in one hand. The man jerks in his chair when Joe enters into the room. "Where's your son" Joe demands. "What's the little shit done now?" he replies,
slurring.

"Where the fuck is he" Joe yells, knocking the beer to the floor.

"I won't ask you again." "He's staying at his uncle's cabin." "And the address?"

* * *

"Debra, I'm so happy we are finally together. You don't have to say a word.

I can see the joy in your eyes."

"What? What's that? No, you just rest. It won't be much longer now. I'm just going to fill up the tank and we'll be on our
way."

Leroy steps out of the truck and starts pumping the gas. He looks through the cab at Debra. She is resting her head on Leroy's jacket. Leroy smiles, very pleased with himself. He finally has the girl of his dreams. Everything will be different now. The other kids won't be making fun of him anymore.

"What? No, no, I did no such thing! You don't mean that. I've always loved you. I'm the one who saved you."

"What are you saying? You wouldn't leave me now? Not after all I've done. Don't say that! Shut up!"

The argument is drawing attention, and Leroy is getting very nervous. He slams the pump back down and jumps into his truck. He nearly hits the pay phone on the way out of the station.

"We are almost here. You'll see the surprise I've got for you and you'll love me again, the way that I love you."


* * *

Leroy carefully puts her into the wheelchair. She is still slumped over and he takes care not to disturb her. He wants her to see the surprise he has waiting. He wheels her into the house and closes the door behind him. He takes everything he needs downstairs and comes back for Debra. He slowly wheels her down until she is at the bottom of the stairs and then he takes her into the candle lit room.

Leroy moves to it's center buzzing with excitement. He is finally going to be with the love of his life, even if it's the last thing he ever does. He moves about the room, lighting more and more candles to reveal a shrine that he's so carefully been keeping. Pictures of Debra are delicately arranged as the center piece. With locks of hair, ribbons from her cheerleading events, movie stubs that were trashed long ago. Around these items are pictures of her with her friends, boyfriends, and even her father. Leroy had carefully removed the images of her ex's and replaced them with his own. The faux images of them together had brought him so much pleasure over the years. They made so many of his nights bearable.

In the middle of the room is a casket. The top half is open and the wheels are extended to keep the casket waist high. On the foot end, more candles illuminate a picture of Connie, Debra's mother.

"Your mother has been waiting for you Debra. She's so happy that we'll finally be together. She's told me so much about you. She said you would eventually come around. We've worked so hard to get you here."

Leroy moves the candle closer to cast some light on Connie's aging corpse, which amounts to nothing more than a frayed dress draped over disintegrating bones and along with several handfuls of dust.

"What? I thought you would be pleased. Don't say that Debra, please! I'm trying to make you happy. What do I have to do to prove that I love you. Wait, wait. I know. I can finally prove my love to you once and for all."

* * *

The black Jaguar careens down the highway snaking in and out of the slower moving vehicles. Joseph's hands squeeze the wheel with such intensity that his knuckles have turned white.

"Not again. Not again," he repeatedly mumbles under his breath. His guilt has been squirming and kicking inside of him for the sixteen years since his wife's death. It has become a part of him every bit as much as his liver, lungs and heart.

"I won't loose you, Debra. I won't," he says as he passes the blue Honda Civic. The mighty Jaguar accelerates with ease, but as he attempts to move back into his lane, the tires loose traction and his car begins to slide. Feverishly, he jerks on the wheel trying to regain some control by turning into the spin, and after a few frantic seconds the car fishtails back under his
command.

He guides the Jaguar into the appropriate lane and eases up on the gas pedal. Those few reckless moments force him to realize the stakes that he is playing for. He cannot fail his daughter as he had his wife, Connie, so many years before. She had contracted a small cold that somehow blossomed into pneumonia, but of course, he had never been home to notice. He was too busy building his career, his business, to come to her even though she had called and begged him to.

"Just another half hour, honey, I swear," he remembers saying. It was a promise he had no intention of keeping. Maybe, if he had told her the truth, that he wouldn't be home until midnight, she would have called a friend or her sister. But instead, she sat wheezing by the door with her bag while she waited for her husband to drive her to the hospital. When she had stopped calling he thought she had merely fallen asleep, but when he returned to the darkened house, he found her unconscious on the floor. Debra, who was only two at the time, sat beside her fallen mother and stroked her short brown hair.

One touch of his wife's cold, damp skin told him that she was dead, but still he refused to believe it. For a half-hour he breathed into his wife and valiantly compressed her chest in an attempt to rekindle her heart's flame. Eventually, he had accepted defeat and with her limp form pulled tightly to his chest, he rocked her nearly till dawn.

Never had he felt such pain, and he is determined not to feel it again. He yanks the car into the dirt driveway that leads to the cabin and puts the car into park. He intends to take the punk by surprise and decides to walk the 400 yards to the house. He gently opens his trunk, removes the tire iron and begins the snow covered ascent towards the home that has become his daughter's prison.

* * *

Joe could see the wheelchair's tracks leading to the house and onto the porch. He nearly slips trying to mount the steps, but somehow he was able to maintain his balance. He grabs the doorknob, but it refuses to turn under his grasp. Fearing a lack of traction to kick it open, he jams the crowbar in beside the handle and pries it open. Flush with anger, he races into the cabin and immediately enters a dim and cluttered hall. Joe lets his eyes adjust before progressing further. After a few quick steps, he reaches a doorway and glances down a long flight of steps. A flickering light source causes long shadows to dance naturally in what looks like a cellar or basement. Something turns in his stomach as he hears an old record playing. Above it, there are no other sounds. No scuffling, or screaming. Nothing.

Joe creeps to the top of the stairs. He carefully turns to look for signs of an ambush and more importantly his daughter. The ominious combination of music and shadows causes his heart to pound. He can only make out the bottom few stairs where the candle light wavers upon them. With every step he takes, he curses the wooden stairs for creaking.

Finally, he enters the room. The crowbar falls to the floor and his arms go limp. Tears begain to well in his eyes as he stands there for what seems like forever. He swallows hard and walks with leaden legs to his daughter's side. Leroy lays at her feet, his hand rests in her lap. His bloody fist is clenched around a heart, and his chest is torn open. Joe looks around the room and immediately recognizes the brown, rotted casket he had buried his wife in. Its doors are flung open, but he can't bear to look inside. Even through the dim light, he can see the table that sits before it and the framed pictures that are on display. He touches his daughter's cold skin and he is painfully forced to recall how death feels.

He cannot hold back the tears any longer and his legs grow weak beneath him. He collapses to his knees knowing that he will spend the night clinging to the corpse of yet another loved one.



------
If you have no questions or fears about your abilities, then you will learn nothing from your mistakes and know nothing about your limitations.


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Comments

The following comments are for "A Heart for Valentine"
by Richard Dani

Sweet Valentine
I ususally don't rate my own work, but this was a blast. But this rating is for Parteepant's. He and I worked on this story back and forth for a while and each time we built on what each other had done. He really polished up some of my rough spots and made this story kick.

I'm very pleased with how this turned out and I hope you all enjoy it! I know I do, every time I read it.

--Chris

( Posted by: Chrispian [Admin] On: February 15, 2002 )

Valentine
Parteepants and Crowe,
This story really put me in the Valentine's day mood-I read it on the news desk yesterday. Kinda sums how Valentines day is for alot of people no matter what you do it sucks. I felt bad for Debra, poor girl she's already messed up and hurt and "BOHICA" she still has more coming. I wish Debra hadn't died, but I realize as with everything you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet. But good job altogether-I really enjoy reading these collabarations.
Later,
Dras

( Posted by: Drastine [Member] On: February 15, 2002 )

Hearts and Dancing
I thought this was a nice story. It had a good pace that kept me reading and brought me through to the end. I also felt bad that she died, I thought Joe was gonna be a hero.

It seems you two work well together, like old dance partners stepping in unison, cheek to cheek while tackling a tempting tango. My only question is...who leads???

( Posted by: Jeff [Member] On: February 15, 2002 )

Crowe is too kind
First, Crowe doesn't give himself enough credit. He's a great writer, and it was his leadership that moved story in the right directions. So, I guess that answers your question, Jeff. ;)

Secondly, what I enjoy most about this story is something that you don't see and that is the collaboration. I loved bouncing ideas back and forth, and watching Crowe meld and shape them into the story above.

So, thank you Crowe for letting me work with you and thanks to the readers and their kind comments. It's good to see our hard work being appreciated and enjoyed.

Bye now,

Parteepants

( Posted by: Richard Dani [Member] On: February 15, 2002 )

Tragic
The Masters of Tragedy strike again. Excellent work. It keeps a good pace and is able to keep you guessing right up till the end. Good work Guys.

-kross

( Posted by: kross [Member] On: February 15, 2002 )

Good Stuff
I like this. It tells the story, and it ain't afraid to say: 'Yeah, it happened this way, not that other way' when appropriate. Good, tragic fun to read!

( Posted by: Beckett Grey [Member] On: February 16, 2002 )





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