Some Legends are True
The following tale is an expansion on the legend of Jack Valentine. It was written and illustrated by Nathan Olli. The account contains images and ideas that may not be suitable for all ages, please read at your own discretion. My aim is not to scare anyone but to warn and simply inform. I have been asked by residents of Norwich that you do not try and relocate to their fine city. There are currently no houses for sale.
This is the story of Jack Valentine
It’s entirely possible that you’ve heard of a mysterious figure named Jack Valentine. It’s said that Jack visits homes around Valentine’s Day and may leave you a small trinket or treasure. If his mood is sour or he’s feeling a bit frolicsome you may receive a lump of coal, a note full of meaningless scribble or even… nothing at all.
You will know Jack has arrived when you hear a knock at your door. You need not run, for no matter how quick you answer, Jack will be gone. Quick as a wink. How he feels about you will be revealed by what he has or hasn’t left behind.
Of course it’s also entirely possible that you have never heard of the mysterious figure named Jack Valentine. That’s understandable; because there’s only one city in one county of one country that is visited by Jack. At least on that day. The city is called Norwich and it’s roughly one hundred miles northeast of London, England.
Reports of gifts being left by the peculiar man date back to the early 1900’s but no one really knows for sure how long he’s been at it. Nor why he does it. Jack Valentine is sometimes referred to as Old Father Valentine and even Old Mother Valentine. I suppose it’s rude for someone to assume gender, having never seen them. However, allow me to go on record as saying Jack Valentine is indeed a man, although his mother does play a large role in what happens in Norwich around Valentine’s Day.
You could say that the fine folks of Norwich City, in Norfolk County, one hundred miles northeast of London are the lucky ones. For the rest of us, Jack Valentine does not represent treats and sweets and tricks and nonsense. No, in fact, Jack Valentine represents some of the scariest parts. The ones that burrow into the deepest, darkest corners of our squishy, pink brains.
New Information Found
I’m here to tell you that I know who Jack Valentine is. I know why Jack Valentine is and I know that he didn’t deserve his fate. He was wronged for doing no wrong. And now, any of us could pay the price at any time of any day. Save for Valentine’s Day. That day belongs to Norwich and its citizens who are lucky enough to reside in the one safe area on this great, big, blue and green sphere called Earth.
Before we continue, I must say that If you’ve never been to Norwich, you should visit. Norwich was proclaimed an official city by the King of England, Richard the Lionheart in 1194. Although the land was being built upon long before that. The city has been through riots, fires and plagues and was the target of numerous bombing runs by the Nazi’s in World War II.
Norwich is considered to be the most complete medieval city in the entire United Kingdom. With its cobbled streets and lanes, ancient buildings, half-timbered houses and the winding River Wensum which runs through the city and towards Norwich Castle. It really is a breathtaking spot of land.
At some point in the history of Norwich, Jack Valentine was born to a woman named Alice. That’s why we are here, so let us get straight to it.
Birth records for Jackson Fenmore Hill are impossible to locate. There’s some who would question if they ever even existed in the first place. You should feel lucky knowing his true name at all, the things I had to do to acquire the information would unsettle your stomach.
By all accounts he was a hard working, young man. He eventually scraped together enough money to purchase a small shop in his hometown of Norwich. Naming the shop after his mother, ‘Alice Blooms’ was one of Norwich’s first and finest florist shops in the city. It was there that Jackson Hill, who preferred to be called ‘Jack’, met his soon to be wife.
Magdalena Parker was an extraordinary beauty. She was also known to be as stubborn as a mule and there were those who believed that she suffered from some sort of undiagnosed psychosis. Said to have a great many suitors at the time, Magdalena fell head over heels in love with Jackson Hill the moment she set foot into ‘Alice Blooms’. Maybe it was the aroma of freshly delivered shrubby honeysuckles. It’s possible that it was Jack’s steel gray eyes. I think, perhaps, it was his eyes.
The pair were married inside one of Norwich’s grand cathedrals. The reception proved to be the event of the year, lasting until the wee hours of the morning as the sun peeked out from behind the North Sea.
Wedding Bells and a New Life Together
Everyone was happy for the new Mr. and Mrs. Jack and Magdalena Hill. Everyone that is, except for Jack’s mother, Alice. Full up with trepidation and misgivings, she had that sense as mothers often do, that something was not quite right with her son’s new wife. She kept her concerns to herself, putting her son’s happiness above all else. Which is also something mothers often do.
Jack and Magdalena moved into Alice’s residence. Partially because Alice didn’t care to be all alone in her very fine two-floored home, but this would also allow the newlyweds a chance to save money and care for her as she entered into her later stages of decrepitude and infirmity.
All was as well as could be expected for a young couple in the early stages of marriage. A roof over their heads, steady income and talk of offspring, which delighted Alice who was eager to become a grandmother. As time passed, she grew comfortable with her daughter-in-law, letting her worries slip into the abyss. It would be her final and most spectacular mistake. A mother, so it seems, should always go with her gut.
The Wrong Impression
Jack Hill’s kindness and caring for others would occasionally be misinterpreted for flirtation. A friendly smile or wave mistaken for advances. A compliment or discount at the cash register confused for a hint of dalliance. It was, in fact, part of what drew Magdalena towards him. He was charming and good-hearted. A softer edged man in a whole world of unsentimental and callous males.
And that was fine, for her. For him to be that man for anyone else was a thought she couldn’t bear. A thought she wouldn’t tolerate. So when the rumor mill within Norwich began to churn, causing those kind gestures and nods to become full on affairs in the mouths of ‘scandalmongers’ and ‘nosey-parkers’, word quickly traveled back to Magdalena. The wrong word.
It started off as a slight bubbling on the surface, like when a pot of water is on the cusp of boiling. Jack, being a man as men sometimes are, didn’t notice the change at first. Her earlier bedtimes and less cheerful ‘good mornings’ were overlooked or unperceived. Even Alice was unaware of the rising temperature within her own home.
For this analogy, the gossip hounds, pretending to do Magdalena a service, were the flame underneath the pot of water. As we know, flames can only lick the bottom of a pot for so long before that water begins to bubble over and produce steam.
A Slow Burn
Soon, Jack’s inquiries to his wife in regards to her happiness and health were met with less refinement. Slamming doors, uncooked meals, cold stares and shoulders, it was then when Jack finally realized something was amiss.
And by then, unbeknownst to Jack, it was too late.
Magdalena finally reached her boiling point late one evening, long after Alice had retired to bed. There is nothing in this world that could have prepared Jack Hill for the onslaught of vulgarities and falsities she would hurl at him well into the early morning hours. Every attempt to calm or correct her only increased her anger. On numerous occasions she came close to striking her husband, either with fist or dinner plate. Neighbors as far away as three or four houses could hear every word as clearly as if Magdalena Hill was in their own sitting room.
Luckily for Jack, his mother’s own hearing had been on a rapid pace of decline. The argument, at worst, may have intertwined loosely into one of the old lady’s numerous dreams. It was for the best.
The mostly one-sided argument didn’t end in a resolution or mutual understanding. It ended, only when Magdalena had exhausted every ounce of energy she had in her petite frame. Jack, understandably at a loss, didn’t know what to say and she wouldn’t have allowed him to say it anyhow. People had gotten into her head so deeply that Jack wasn’t the Jack she had married any longer. Jack was a liar, an adulterer and someone not worth the time she wasted being his wife.
As Jack left to open his shop the next day it was announced, in the few spoken words, that the couple would seek a divorce as quickly as Magdalena could get her affairs in order. Then she would return to live with her parents who were already planning to take Jack Hill to court in an effort to recoup any wedding costs. The work day proved to be abnormally slow and Jack couldn’t help but feel as if every passerby was speaking in hushed tones about him while shooting disapproving looks through the panes of glass in his shop windows.
So it came as a surprise to Jack when he entered the doorway of his mother’s home and saw the two of them, Magdalena and Alice, sitting at the dining room table. Candlelight revealed a meal fit for a king resting upon his mother’s best dishes. While Magdalena switched between smiles for Alice and sneers for Jack, Alice beamed with pride for her son. When he questioned the reason for the surprise meal, his mother gleefully reminded him that it was the first anniversary of his proposal to Magdalena. A most joyous occasion to be sure.
Alice made awkward small talk about her thinking it was time that they gave her a grandchild, a granddaughter if she had her choice. She praised the couple for their love and caring for each other and herself. All the while, as Jack sat uncomfortably, not saying much; Magdalena responded with the skill of the finest thespian.
As dinner finished, Alice paid her compliments to the chef, and offered to retire earlier than normal. She wanted, it was implied with a wink, to give the young couple a chance to celebrate the anniversary of the day their relationship became official. Little did Alice know that the second her bedroom door closed, Magdalena arose from her seat, stared intently into Jack’s sharp, gray eyes, said goodnight and retired to her own room, locking the door behind her.
Feeling beaten down and bewildered, Jack cleaned up the dinner table and laid his tired body down on the couch. He promised himself that he would find a way to fix the situation, to make her trust him again, but it wouldn’t be right then, he was too exhausted. His eyelids grew heavier and he drifted off to sleep.
The Devil’s Hour
Just after three in the morning, the door to Jack and Magdalena’s bedroom inched open. A figure that resembled Magdalena stared out through the slit, letting her eyes adjust to the dark. To be clear, it was indeed Jack’s wife. To be clearer, she had a different look to her. Her eyes were not her own. Her hair was a tangled mess from running her hands through it. The embellished stories of her husband, his denial of those stories and the subsequent rage that grew inside had seemingly aged her by decades in the few hours since dinner.
She flinched when Jack’s breathing changed and watched as he rolled over onto his back. When she was sure that he was deeply asleep once more she made her way towards the couch.
There was less hesitation than one would assume is needed in a situation such as this. It was as if she didn’t want to allow herself a moment to change her mind. Or maybe the part of her brain that handles reasoning was no longer functioning, dead and curling in on itself like a fallen leaf.
You’ll Only Have ‘Eye’ For Me
Unsure of the necessary force needed for the task, she plunged the blade of her knife into the left corner of his right eye socket. Before he could do so much as scream, she was nearly halfway done and by the time his howls had reached their shrillest, waking his mother upstairs, his eyeball, gray and piercing in its dead stare, was in the palm of her hand.
In stockings and a nightgown Magdalena Hill, as casually as if leaving for church, opened the front door and walked out into the chilly fall morning. At this hour, the streets were quiet, but once authorities were alerted to her husband’s situation, they’d be looking for her.
A Place to Hide
In town, she approached the market square, which was not all that far from Alice Blooms. She found an unlocked food cellar and hid herself near the rear of the room where she fell asleep for nearly two hours. She was awoken by someone opening the door. How had they found her so quickly? How long had she slept? All of these thoughts raced through her brain as she watched a portly man in a chef’s apron bring in a pot of stew. He was oblivious to the woman hiding in his cellar, not to mention the cold orb that she clutched in her right hand.
The man placed the pot on a crate and began looking for the vegetables he needed to add. She was ready to make a run for it when she heard someone call the man’s name. He sighed, set down the vegetables and left out the door, leaving it open.
Luck, it appeared, was on her side.
A Wretched Stew
Magdalena stood up, stretched and then an awful, horrible thought washed over her. In her right mind, she would have never done something like this, but she was obviously not in her right mind. She strode confidently towards the door, dropping Jack’s eye into the thick stew. She smiled as It made an awful plopping sound and sunk down into the pot, then she walked out of the cellar and into the morning sun.
Her freedom lasted for only a short time as no one else in the market that morning was wearing attire similar to hers. People shouted and pointed towards the woman dressed in stockings and a blood soaked nightgown. She threw up her arms and laughed as officers of the law announced that she was under arrest.
The Recovery Process
Months passed by as they awaited the trial of Magdalena Hill. Poor Alice stayed by her son’s bedside in the hospital, only returning home to sleep. When she arrived at her house every night she made sure to leave the sitting room dark, Jack’s blood was now a permanent stain on the sofa and rug below.
He had good days and he had bad days, rarely was he awake and when he was it wasn’t for long as the pain was nearly unbearable. He hadn’t yet seen his wound, no one had except for his doctors and any nurses that changed his dressing. That would be worse for him than any amount of pain.
The Trial of Magdalena Hill
After the new year, Magdalena’s trial began. It was the talk of the town, with the courthouse needing to turn curious folks away in droves. By now, the Norwich rumor mill was working overtime. Everyone had their own thoughts and theories on the situation, each one crazier and more untrue than the next.
Jurors were brought in from out of town in hopes that they would listen to the case with an open mind. The reality was, they would have needed to pool jurors from Mars to find someone who hadn’t heard about the case, and even then, they might be out of luck.
People inside the courtroom were aghast when Magdalena first entered. Gone was the young, twenty-something with rosy cheeks and endless beauty. This Magdalena was disheveled, wild-eyed and looked as if she would bite if someone were brave enough to get close to her.
The Grisly Details
As the trial went on more and more information was released to the public. Anyone who had previously believed the lies and supported Magdalena and her vengeful actions were now slinking back into the shadows. It was revealed that she’d cut his eye out with one of his own mother’s carving knives. She’d left his eyeball in a pot of stew that someone may or may not have ingested.
The rumors of infidelity were all proven to be nothing more than that, rumors. The people she’d claimed told her these stories were brought forth to testify. While some of the women admitted to finding Jack Hill alluring and being appreciative of his niceties, most didn’t even know Magdalena personally let alone feel close enough with her to spread gossip. The biggest reaction from the public came when it was said that Magdalena, while on the stand, admitted to doing it for the purposes of knowing that one of his wandering eyes would always be with her.
Mom and Dad’s Last Ditch Efforts
On the sixth day of the trial, Magdalena’s parents took the stand. Their message to the jury was that Magdalena had long suffered from an unknown mental disorder that only recently had been given a name by a doctor in France. Circular Insanity, they called it. According to them, Magdalena sometimes fluctuated between depression, normality and manic excitement. It might have worked in saving her life had the court not received the news from Jack’s mother, Alice.
Jackson Fenmore Hill was dead.
A Clear Verdict
The charges quickly became much more severe and the jury wasted no time in finding her guilty for her crimes. A week later, she was hanged near the market square where she’d taken refuge after her heinous act and just down the block from Alice Blooms.
The namesake of the flower shop oversaw the execution. Weeping, but not for Magdalena. For the guilt she felt about not speaking up when she sensed there was something wrong with the girl. She’d finish off her last years alone now, in her very fine and very empty two-floored home.
It will come as a surprise to you that also in attendance of Magdalena’s execution was Jack Hill.
“It’s for the Best.”
He was not, as everyone believed, dead. It turns out that upon seeing his disfigured face for the first time, he thought it might be easier on everyone if he just disappeared. After all, as far as he knew, everyone in town believed the lies and had conspired against him. He sensed that even his beloved mother had her doubts and she, of all people, should not have to be reminded of what took place every time she gazed upon his face.
His deception was pulled off masterfully. Over the course of his hospital stay he’d befriended a young man named Uriah. Most people considered Uriah to be a simpleton which was a derogatory term for someone who suffered from a mental disability. Jack would give Uriah any sweets that his mother had left behind each day and played games with him well into the night when Uriah should have been cleaning the hospital.
Burn the Wrong Body
On the evening before his disappearance, Jack found Uriah pushing a gurney down the hall towards the crematorium. Sprawled out upon the gurney was a man near Jack’s age, size and shape. The man was deceased.
Jack felt truly guilty about duping the younger Uriah, he considered him a friend. Uriah didn’t care what Jack looked like or about his history, he just enjoyed his company. If he wanted his plan to work however, he needed him. He asked Uriah if he wanted to help play a fun trick on everyone. Uriah agreed without hesitation, excited that someone was trusting him with a secret.
The following morning a nurse discovered that the man on the hospital bed with his face wrapped up tightly in fresh bandages, whom she assumed to be Mr. Hill had passed away.
The final detail, Jack told Uriah, was the most important. Uriah was instructed to take the body straight to the crematorium instead of the autopsy room. Jack knew his mother would be upset over the mistake but also knew she had a kind soul and would never be able to stay angry at a young man like Uriah. It would go down as a simple accident carried out by a simple man who meant no harm.
The worst case scenario, Jack figured, was that his mother would end up with an urn on the mantle that contained a stranger’s ashes.
A New Life
After retrieving some money and a change of clothes from his mother’s home, Jack Hill left Norwich and headed west towards the tiny seaport town of King’s Lynn. As he neared the town, Jack heard someone call out his full name. Worried that his mother, in her old age, somehow followed him all that way he maintained his pace and did not look. The woman’s voice called out again. Louder this time. If it was not his mother, then who could it be?
Jack turned to see a tired looking, older woman standing near the base of an ash tree. He did not know her, but she appeared older than his mother, older than the tree she now leaned against. Her hair was the color of wet cement and her face was covered in waves of wrinkles.
Are You… a Witch?
He asked straight away if she was a witch, she answered just as matter-of-factly that she was indeed and told him her name, Ann. He questioned her in regards to her knowledge of his name and she replied that his name was not all she knew. Jack felt surprisingly at ease with the old woman and the two talked for some time beneath the ash tree.
The old woman, Ann, was able to recount nearly his entire life story including the events that had led him to her. He allowed her to apply a salve of her own creation to his still healing, empty eye socket and ate more than his share of alder buckthorn berries from the pouch she presented.
The night sky soon erased the day and Jack grew tired. By all accounts, he should have still been on bedrest. He thought of Uriah and hoped he hadn’t been punished for the accidental burning of the body. The old woman, Ann, made a fire and found him a soft place to lie down.
A Much Needed Rest
As his one eyelid became too heavy to hold up, he felt a hint of unease in regards to the old woman, Ann. She stood, leaning on her walking stick and stared at him, silently willing him to fall asleep faster. He patted the pocket that held his money, thought himself silly for worrying that the kind, old woman would steal from him and then drifted off to sleep.
Jack awoke many hours later. The fire was reduced to ash although it still gave off heat. His body was stiff and he realized that he must have been sleeping on stones, for the scapula bone on each shoulder felt tender, hot and sore. He instinctively wiped at both eyes, regretting it when he remembered the wound, but no pain came from the action. He touched gently at it with the tips of his fingers. While the eye was still gone, the wound itself felt remarkably smooth.
The Witch Disappears
He sat up with a start and patted his pocket. His money was still there. But where was the old woman, Ann. Where was the witch?
Jack stood up, stretched and grabbed his belongings. He headed away from the town of King’s Lynn and back towards a small pond he had passed shortly before he met the old woman. He remembered the salve that she had applied to his wound and wondered what sorts of dark magic she’d used on him. He’d been so trusting for some reason, he felt comfortable with her, as if he’d known her for his whole life.
Jack reached the pond, tossed aside his belongings and knelt down at the water’s edge. In the morning light the still water made for a perfect mirror. He needed to see what she had done to his eye. He let out a gasp and marveled at the soft patch of only mildly discolored skin that had somehow, overnight, replaced the once hideous wound. A moment later he noticed the two tiny wings protruding from his back.
He did not panic, as one might have done finding that they had sprouted wings. He found comfort in them, much as he had the day before upon meeting the old woman, Ann. But acknowledging the wings somehow seemed to make the pain around each scapula bone intensify. In the reflection of the shallow pond he watched, with his own eye, the wings grow in size.
What had the witch done to him? Whatever it was, he did not mind. The pain subsided and was replaced by a warmth that radiated outward from his heart, which now felt like it had been split in two. It was when the warmth reached his brain that things really started to change for Jack.
Two Halves, Not Whole
He was wholly aware of the split that began in his second most vital organ, the heart and then traveled to the most important, the brain. On one side he felt a sweet longing for his mother, a need to bring joy to her sadness at least for one day. In the other, a craving for vengeance. Not towards Magdalena, she was already dead. This vengeance was directed at anyone who willingly spread lies for sport. It was for those who thought nothing of breaking someone’s heart. And it was for couples who needed to flaunt their relationship and make a show for those less fortunate, for they desired only validation.
And finally, both sides of the split wanted his eye back.
Jack turned away from his own reflection and found that someone had left a finely crafted bow along with a quiver of arrows made from ash. There was a tag on the quiver that read simply, ‘a gift’.
Upon Returning to Norwich
On the evening of February 13th of that year, Jack returned to the city of Norwich. He was dressed handsomely in all black, with a hat to match that was pulled down low over his eye to conceal his identity. His wings were now down to his waist, he hadn’t yet attempted to fly. There was no hiding those, so he’d tied a rope around his chest that kept them flat to his back.
Under the cover of night, he was a shadow that moved gracefully through the cobblestone city streets that he’d grown up on. Using information he obtained from the trial transcripts he would be able to hunt down the four people who possibly consumed his eye on the day Magdalena dropped it into a pot of stew like a simple potato.
“Where is my Eye?”
He found the first poor soul, waking them from their slumber and bringing them down below the city streets. He searched and searched but there was no sign of his eye. Luckily for two of the last three, he found his eye in the stomach of his second victim whom he’d dissected more carefully than the first. Please rest assured knowing that these first two men, one without and one with the eye, would be the only two people ever harmed in the city of Norwich.
A Valentine’s Day to Remember
The clock struck midnight and Valentine’s Day had arrived. He had much more work to do. He arrived at Alice Blooms to find it boarded up. Jack broke into his own shop and found hundreds of flowers, wilted and dried. Upon touching a rose, it crumbled to the floor. The old woman, Ann, from somewhere among the ash trees had one more trick up her sleeve. One more gift for Jack.
The room glowed red and Jack watched in astonishment as each and every last flower came back to life. He thanked her in his mind and she heard him no doubt.
By the time the sun came up and people awoke on Valentine’s Day, each and every home had a beautiful bouquet of flowers at its doorstep. His mother’s doorstep had the most and the aroma of her bouquets reminded her of her son, Jack.
Decades, perhaps centuries later, Jackson Fenmore Hill who is now known simply as Jack Valentine or Old Father Valentine or even Old Mother Valentine; can be found roaming the streets, under the cover of night. He searches for the liars and the heart breakers and the attention seekers, granting them the attention they seek in the worst of ways.
But on Valentine’s Day he is in Norwich City, spreading love and playful mischief in honor of his mother, Alice. One day he will grow tired of his work and retire to the heavens or down below. The Old Woman, Ann will be amongst the ash trees, ready to replace her Valentine.
Written by Nathan Olli. Illustrations created via the Canva program. Original idea based on the Legend of Jack Valentine.