Before Valentine

Lupercalia, of which many write that it was anciently celebrated by shepherds, and has also some connection with the Arcadian Lycaea. At this time many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy. –Plutarch

Two men ran naked down the suburban street, laughing, the blood on their foreheads hot despite the pre-dawn chill. If they were caught, they could go to jail for indecency or public exposure, but at the moment they didn’t care. The sacrifice had been made, and now it was time to run, even if no other brothers of the wolf were there to join them.

As they passed a house, the dog inside began to howl. Other dogs on the block took up the call until a vast chorus sang to the night. The men howled back between giggles but did not break their stride, nor did the noise seem to wake any of the people sleeping around them. Not even a car alarm went off.

Mary, already up, had wandered outside for some fresh air. Her back ached and her feet were swollen, but she comforted herself with the thought that the baby would be coming soon. Or so she hoped; it was already a week past her delivery date, and the doctor wanted to schedule a Caesarean. She had declined so far because she wanted a natural birth, but now even she was growing concerned. She rubbed her belly absently and looked up at the stars, wondering whether it was foolish to wish on one. Or maybe she could pray to St. Valentine, whose holiday was coming up. Not that anyone remembered a saint was involved amid the flowers and chocolates.

Movement caught her eye. The sight of two nude joggers was a shock, but she wasn’t afraid, even when one started towards her. She raised a hand in greeting, and the man slapped it as he trotted past, as if he were an athlete and she a waiting fan. Brow furrowed, she stared at his retreating form, her palm stinging.

A gush of moisture warmed her legs and she looked down in confusion. Then the first pang of labor hit. The man’s laughter followed her as she staggered inside, calling for her husband.

16 Responses to “Before Valentine”

  1. Amalia T says:

    I’m really curious as to what year and where these people are? Is it Suburban Greece? or America? Or..? But that is mostly just because I think it is a fascinating that these people are engaging in such an old ritual suddenly somewhere.

  2. I think this is a great pre-Valentine’s story. You spiced it up nicely from the original. I’m glad you posted, even if you’re not! 😛

    Oh, and I assumed this was modern America.

  3. John Wiswell says:

    The blood makes that a dynamite opening. Crazy modern remake, Valerie.

  4. Amalia T says:

    I guess for some reason I felt like it was the 80s or the 60s. Modern but not NOW? I do not know why! I think this is one of those things that was JUST ME.

  5. Valerie says:

    It’s okay, I added some stuff to hopefully make it clearer. Thanks!

  6. Now that’ll be a birthing story for the child to remember – with dread. 🙂 Fantastic work Valerie.

  7. @lil_monmon says:

    AW!! I loved this!! I also enjoyed imagining the expression on her face as a naked man jiggled towards her in the pre-dawn morning. Kudos to you for doing the research too. <3

  8. Loved this! The giggling naked men are hilarious (I wish giggling naked men ran down my street at night!) and the ending, with her water breaking, is just perfect. At first when I read your background paragraph, I thought what is this? But I caught on quick and loved the whole thing.

  9. Sam Adamson says:

    Great story! I really enjoyed how you gave this a modern twist.

  10. Katherine says:

    Ah, the wacky old traditions… I wonder, will people look back on cardboard heart-symbol-shaped boxes of chocolates and be as amused? It’s also something to think about as I go running today.

    Thanks, Valerie. Loved it!

  11. Mari Juniper says:

    That’s a lovely story, Valerie! It’s really nice to see a modern interpretation of the old rites, putting aside flowers, chocolate and the excessive love babbling. Really loved it!

  12. Aidan Fritz says:

    A fun update and play on Lupercalia. I’m glad things worked out for the lady.

  13. Valerie says:

    Thanks for reading, everyone. I wanted to write something for the holiday but didn’t want to get too sappy. Glad it worked out. 🙂

  14. Lara Dunning says:

    What a wonderful story. I like the tidbit of history before hand to help put the scene in perspective.

  15. Amalia just sent me here after she read my post on Mark Antony’s adventures with Lupercalia. Loved the visual of these naked runners, the dogs howling and the men giggling. If you’re interested, my post is at

  16. John Xero says:

    A fun modernisation of ancient myth, and very well written. =)

Leave a Reply