by J.P. Fischer
Details of the alternate stuff are in the actual document. Wasn't sure of a category.
NOTE: This 'what if' story takes place in an alternate timeline of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. In the original, Romeo only returns to Verona after hearing of Juliet's 'death', and makes it successfully to her resting place. In this timeline, Juliet does not receive the potion that shall fake her death, and instead, Romeo openly defies his exile and returns to Verona, hoping to convince Juliet to run away with him. Instead, he is apprehended by the Prince and his guards. It is not long before Juliet, and indeed most of southern Verona have heard the news. Romeo of the Montagues is to be executed at six in the evening, five days after his capture.
The dull roar of the crowd outside sank to a murmur as the church bell rang. Juliet clapped her hands to her ears, slipping slightly as the booming sound bit at her ears. Outside, hundreds of bloodthirsty spectators cheered wildly. The clock had struck six o' clock in the evening, the blood sun descending into the murky horizon. Any moment now...
Juliet scrambled to her feet, hoisting her dress above her ankles and continued gingerly. The cathedral's spiral staircase wound upwards, slinking its narrow way up towards the roof. Breathing deeply, Juliet took a moment to steady herself, leaning on the outer wall of the staircase. Glimmers of burning sunlight streamed pitifully through the slit, which was likely built for archers in times of war. Shielding her eyes, Juliet poked her face into the slit, raking the crowd with her eyes. The crowd stretched out nearly a hundred metres, gravitating feverishly around a raised platform, directly in front of the hulking cathedral, a cathedral which, unbeknownst to the crowd, now housed a rogue Capulet, making her way steadily to the top.
Juliet peered to the ground, and a feeling of nausea struck her suddenly. Her face lightened a few shades whiter as she appreciated the height of the building. By her reckoning, she guessed she was about three quarters up the massive tower. Juliet had sound knowledge of angles and other mathematics, which had been taught to her by the droning teacher of the Capulet household. Some of the knowledge that had constantly been thrown at her must have stuck however, at least a basic understanding. Although she couldn't see it, Juliet knew that a twin tower stood to her right, two twin pinnacles at either side of the cathedral, stark and white against the pinkish-grey sky.
"Romeo, of the Montague Clan!"
The crowd exploded with a violent sort of excitement. The ceremony had begun. The announcer raised his hand for quiet, but the anticipation was infectious, and it took a good minute for the din to settle. While the rabble slowly died away, Juliet searched the crowd, a knot forming in her throat. The Montague's stood directly to the left of the platform, half of them morose and the other half livid. One foolish Montague boy shouted something indistinguishable, and ran towards the platform furiously. Two members of the crowd rushed forward, and beat him brutally. No one was going to get in the way of the first public execution in years. With her heart sinking even lower, Juliet spotted her fellow Capulets, standing in opposition to the Montagues, Mother and Father grinning and waving at Lord and Lady Montague, who turned their heads away, although out of shame, fear or anger, Juliet could not tell. Perhaps a mixture of all three. A few slave savages stood behind the Capulets. Members of the audience threw stones at them, and they grunted stupidly as the pellets hit their light clothes. Juliet felt a strange mixture of enjoyment at the punishment, but also slight pity for the savages. Drawing her eyes away from the slaves, Juliet saw the Prince of Verona standing beside the executioner, his expression moody.
Then, tears coming to her eyes, Juliet looked down upon Romeo, the love of her life, bound in the stocks. With a cry that died halfway through her throat, Juliet popped her head out of the slit, turned, and hurried up the stairs, wiping the tears from her eyes. But she had gone no more than a dozen steps when she ran into a very solid object, and slipped down the stairs, smashing down onto the next platform. Blinking the stars out of her eyes, Juliet saw a tall, thin man coming down the stairs. He held out a hand in offering, an encouraging smile on his face, but Juliet pulled herself up.
"What is your business in the cathedral?" She said, putting in an extra effort to sound dignified. The man grinned even more broadly. He looked vaguely familiar, like an old friend Juliet had long forgotten.
"I see we are thinking the same thing." His smile didn't falter as he said this. If anything, it grew wider as he descended a few steps. His reply took Juliet by surprise, and it took her a moment to respond.
"I... I-I fancied a stroll." It sounded even worse in the flesh then it had in Juliet's mind. Not even the most empty-headed of Montagues could mistake that for the truth.
"Up a six-story church?"
Juliet gulped. The man had pressed for more details of the lie, which was worse than straight up challenging her truthfulness. She bobbed up and down pointlessly for a moment, considering an answer. Instead, she decided to throw a curveball.
"What's your name, young sir?" She asked, steering the conversation away from strolling.
"Bridgemore, ma'am. Bridgemore of the Capulet Clan." He said with a courteous bow. The noise of the bell didn't even faze him, although Juliet clapped her hands to her ears once more. After a moment, Bridgemore repeated his statement.
Juliet considered this. A Capulet was technically under her power, but she doubted that even if this man were a Montague, she wouldn't feel any safer.
"Well... Bridgemore of the Capulets. If you will kindly step aside. I have important business to attend to."
His smile grew even wider.
"Don't you think it strange?" He said, ignoring her last sentence.
"Step aside, or Lord and Lady Capulet will hear about this!"
Once more, he ignored her.
"Strange, that Father Brimley simply... allowed you to enter the cathedral, especially at a time of execution?" Juliet opened her mouth stupidly, but no words came. She hadn't even thought of that. Come to think of it, she had gained seemingly miraculous entry to the cathedral. Bridgemore cocked his head as he read the realization on her face.
"Normally," he continued. "Nobody would be allowed in here. But I saw you approaching from the side... I was on the roof, you see, and decided to point Brimley in the right direction. I take it you are grateful?"
Juliet nodded, a steel knot appearing in her throat. Outside, the crowd raged. Something was happening. Juliet needed to get to the top.
"Very grateful! Very indeed! Now, will you continue in your generous behavior, and allow me to pass?"
Somehow, Juliet knew his answer before he even spoke.
"You cannot pass." He said with a grin. His eyes gleamed with a strange madness.
Juliet shifted slightly, weighing her options. Going down would be to forfeit the plan, but Bridgemore, despite being skinny, seemed capable of preventing her further passage.
"I will inform Lord and Lady Capulet!"
Grinning even further, he said wickedly, "You cannot pass." Without moving his head, his hand moved to his belt, and he drew out a long, thin knife, jagged and dull.
Juliet gasped, backing down the stairs.
"You shall not kill me!" She said, her remark being injected with a sudden burst of anger. Bridgemore paused, and his smile faltered. For a moment, he seemed genuinely confused.
"Kill you? No, fair lady. Why kill you?" He said, his eyes glinting hungrily. "When there is so much... time?"
He drew the knife level with her torso, pushing her against the outer wall. Outside, the crowd once again roared.
"Do not move." He said excitedly. But Juliet did move. With a scream of desperation, she pushed out her leg, hitting him hard in the shin. Bridgemore fell to the ground painfully, knife still in hand. His face livid, he slashed the knife at her, snarling like an animal. But he did it with too much force, and the knife missed her and slipped out of his hand, smacking hilt first against the wall and clattering to the floor, just above Juliet. He threw himself towards it, but with another wild kick from Juliet he fell back to the floor, and she snatched the knife, her heart pumping desperately. Wielding the knife, she threw himself on top of him, and held the knife above his chest. With a guttural bellow, she thrust the knife down, hard. For a moment, they struggled, and all was heat and confusion and blood. Slowly, Bridgemore stiffened, until he became still. Juliet was lying on the ground, a nasty bruise blossoming on her forehead. She raised a hand to feel it, but was shocked to find her face wet. Fat tears were rolling from her eyes, and for a while she simply wept, mourning over the body of her assailant. A sudden uproar from the crowd outside anchored her back to reality.
Staggering to her feet, still crying wildly, Juliet took a shaky step up the stairs, and then another. Soon she was scrambling up the stairs, teardrops falling with pathetic plunks on the stone, as she cried into the darkness.
"Forgive me! Forgive me! Forgive me!" For several minutes she simply climbed, sorrow overtaking her body, blubbering and weeping. Eventually, the tears stopped, and she was left with a dead, hollow feeling, ten times worse than the crying. After what seemed an age of tragedy, the spiral staircase became lighter, the grey fading to an off white. Before she had even registered what had happened, her eyes were blinded, and she toppled over, the wind raging in her ears. As she lay there, her dress dusty and bloody, her eyes adjusted, and she realized she had made it. She was on top of the cathedral. Over the hills, she could see the sun burning away into a pink smog. Dragging herself to the edge of the cathedral, she peered over the edge. Before she could see what was happening, she had pulled herself back away from the edge, and was promptly sick. Nothing, not even the view from the stairwell arrow slit, could've prepared her for the height of the cathedral. Once more, she pulled herself to the edge, lying parallel to the border. She stared down, and realized the announcer was speaking. He held a wooden cone to his mouth, which magnified his voice rather ineffectively, although Juliet could still make it out.
"Romeo!" He shouted. "You stand accused of the murder of Tybalt Capulet, possible murder of Mercutio Montague, trespassing on Capulet property, trying to enter fair Verona with a poisonous substance, and defiance of your previous sentence of banishment! Do you deny any of these charges?"
The crowd stared at Romeo, whose face could not be seen by Juliet. After a moment, he gave a small shake of his head. The crowd roared, the bloodlust rising. Juliet thought she had wept all her tears down in the stairwell. She was wrong. Small droplets flew through the air, spiraling into nothingness.
The bell rang again, but Juliet did not raise her hands. It was louder than ever, but she let it stab at her ears. Nothing seemed to matter anymore.
"Well," continued the announcer. "If the accused has no final words?" Romeo gave another shake of his head.
"He's crying!" shouted someone from the crowd, and although Juliet could not tell, she knew it must be true. Perhaps he was thinking of her. The crowd jeered and booed, but the announcer raised his hand for quiet, and for once, he got it. He looked at the executioner, who was masked and menacing, and gave a grim nod. Juliet looked away as the executioner raised his axe, and moaned as she heard the unmistakable sound of steel hitting wood. Looking for one last time at the sky, the beautiful sky, Juliet rolled off the chapel, her plan complete. The wind roared in her ears, her limbs flapping around pointlessly. Mad love, indeed. She thought. Then, with a sickening crack, the world of Juliet Capulet became still and dark.
Ask not for whom the bell tolls.
It tolls for thee.