Happy Valentines Day everyone!!! Hope it’s a good day filled with love and the people you care for!! And if you don’t have anyone to spend it with, or just want a break from all the mushy gushy sweet stuff, please enjoy this simple story of a girl trying desperately not to fall in love.
The City of Mindless Lovers
Ah, Valentine’s day…. a day of love and chocolates, but mostly chocolates, and stuffed bears, and roses, and as much merchandise as the stores can push out. Romance as it’s viewed on this day is all fluff and feelings. It’s all about the gifts and the sweet words and showing off. It’s an excuse for couples to be obnoxiously mushy to each other and drive mad the singles who shut themselves inside and complain.
It’s alright and good for a day. It’s not a good example of true romance and love – the kind that puts the other before yourself, the kind that is more than butterflies and good feelings, the selfless kind, the kind that is chosen and maintained daily, the kind that makes a marriage last and families build and thus society thrive, the kind we all must work to achieve – But it’s a good excuse for a fun date. One day of it isn’t so bad…. but it’s February 28th, and it still hasn’t ended.
I open the hastily-made gate I’d fashioned at the end of an alley and peered out. The street seemed to be clear at the moment. A disheveled bouquet of flowers tumbled down the street in the breeze, but no other sound was heard. I stepped from the gate and quickly fastened it again, but not before my cat slipped out with me.
“Of course I am,” the cat replied. “You always need looking after, especially in a time like this.”
I snorted as I adjusted the pack on my back and started walking, “I think I’ve been doing alright.”
Muse raised an eyebrow, “What? By hiding away this whole time?”
“Exactly. I don’t bother them, they won’t bother me.”
“Whatever. You still need me,” the cat grinned.
I rolled my eyes, “Yeah, yeah. I suppose I do. Now come along, we have work to do.”
The morning sun was just rising. Its light was shining through the pink clouds that had hung over the city since that first day, casting all the world la vie en rose. It had all been so lovely at first. The soft pink air, the bands playing soft and soothing music on the corners, couples strolling arm in arm buying sweet gifts from the street venders, and oh! The dancing! The feeling of love was in the air, even for those that had no one to call their own.
I had gazed in wonder, danced in the street with all the rest, bought a bit of chocolate for myself, and wondered idly, though not too critically, of what it would be like to spend such a time with someone by my side. The day was charming and the festivities carried long into the night. And when I laid my head down at last, my only thought was on the after Valentine’s Day sale the following morning and all the extra chocolate and goodies I would buy for myself.
Imagine my surprise when I awoke the next day to the same pink light, the same music, the same sappy couples flooding the streets. I didn’t linger as long this time, and I tried to go about my day as usual. But they were everywhere. The entire city seemed to be taken over, and there seemed no end to the city, no matter which direction I took or how far I walked. I was trapped in a city full of mindless lovers.
Days passed into weeks. The couples never seemed to leave the streets, or really do anything. No one went to work anymore. The parties dragged on like old jokes, the music sounded like broken records. It became a blind mockery of that fun day, and I avoided it at all costs. Yet somehow I could never outrun it. I found myself lost and unable to find my home in the maze-like city. I saved myself by sticking to the allies and scavenging the scraps of the parties.
One by one, my single friends disappeared. I began to wonder what had happened, until I spotted them later, swooning in the streets with the rest. Some of them even turned into Swayers; they chased after me, trying to convince me to join them and find my perfect match. I wasn’t weighed down by sappy feelings, so I outran them. Occasionally I’d find others like me, the ones trying to stay out of the way of the love-sick masses, and I could trade news and supplies; and have an intelligent conversation with someone besides a cat. I didn’t understand what was happening. I just knew I wanted to stay away from it.
“Oooh hey dere pretty lady!”
I turned my head to see a small group of Swayers walking towards me. They were young men – although, by their baggy pants, scrappy facial hair, and the impression that they lived in their mom’s basement, I’d argue they were more boy than man. There were only three of them, laughing and whistling in my direction. It was obvious they were Catcallers, a relatively harmless form of Swayers, but terribly annoying and hard to get rid of if not handled just right. Ignoring them would only make them follow, threatening them only antagonizes them, so the trick is to scare them.
“Let’s see a smile, cutie!”
“Where you walking with that fine-looking butt?”
Spinning on my heels, I sauntered straight to them, a huge and purposefully creepy grin plastered across my face. The men halted in their approach.
“I’m just on my way to the mall. I hear there’s a new top brand store just opened up, then there’s that fancy restaurant everyone talks about, and a movie playing! In 3D! The only problem is…. I don’t have money for any of that…” I put on a huge pout, and looked up at them through long, sad lashes. “But…. I’m sure you gentlemen wouldn’t mind taking me.”
“Well…. uh….” the boys looked uncomfortable and glanced at each other.
“But… you said I’m so pretty! You said you want me to smile? Don’t you want to make me smile??”
The boys took one step back, then another, then took off running in the other direction. I smiled to myself and continued back the way I had been going. However, I chided myself for not being more observant and having been taken by surprise. I decided to be more careful.
The obvious Swayers, like the Catcallers, were easy to get past. It was the subtle ones that were the danger. You had to be very careful when talking to anyone, because you never knew who you are talking to, and if they might steal your heart when you weren’t looking.
Music with a great beat, and terribly risqué lyrics, came drifting from a street off to my left. Changing my direction, I sprinted to the nearest building and peered around the corner. Before me was what seemed to be the backs of several booths sitting on the outskirts of a party. No one was attending them, and all the shoppers were further away. Perfect.
Taking off my backpack, I nodded to Muse and crept forward in the shadow of the building. With my cat hovering above me as a lookout, I ducked behind the closest booth of chocolates and treats, and I began shoving everything within reach into my bag. The cakes and muffins I wrapped up in plastic and placed carefully in last. Throughout the process I glanced at Muse, who was hiding in the decor around the booth. He was still and watchful the entire time. All was going well.
I was just fastening my bag closed, when from the corner of my eye, I saw his tall twitch. “In coming couple,” he hissed. I heard the footfalls approaching the booth, and had a split second to make a decision. Do I run, or do I stay and fake it? They’d notice something if they saw me ran, so I stood and decided to play along.
The couple was too busy hanging over each other to notice my sudden appearance. I put on a huge smile as they came to a stop, giggling in each other’s arms.
“We want some cake,” said the boy. He was a tall fellow, with caramel skin, a thick and short-cut afro, and glasses sitting askew on his round nose.
The girl, tucked under his arm, was an ivory creature with jet black hair, and she added, “We’re going to smash our faces into it and see who can eat it the fastest!”
“And once our mouths have no more cake to eat…” the boy shot a devilish grin at his girl, sending her into a fit of giggles. Then she bit her lip as she looked up at him through her lashes.
I almost let my fake smile fall into a grimace. Muse bit my shoe to remind me to control myself, so I gritted my teeth and continued playing my part. “Ooooh sounds fuuuuun!” I said, winking at them. Quickly, I found another cake and handled it off to the pair, then breathed a sigh of relief as I watched them go.
The Swooners were harmless to me, having each other to latch on to, but they were very uncomfortable to be around. At least this couple was still rather aware and friendly. They hadn’t turned into mindless drones constantly making out….. yet.
“Ok Muse,” I said in a whisper, crouching down to pick up my bag, “let’s get out of here.” I turned around to hurry back down the street, and came suddenly into a brick wall. “Ow! What the…” I rubbed my head and looked in bewilderment at the wall standing where a street once was.
“Well, that’s new,” Muse commented. “Let me check it out.” He was gone before I could protest, so I ducked down behind the booth and waited. Music swelled, the singer sang about falling in love on a Friday night, and the laughter and cheers seemed to come closer. I bit my lip and kept very still under the table, praying Muse would hurry back.
When at least he floated down I was fidgeting with anxiety. I snatched him from the air, he hissed, but I covered his mouth and hissed back, “Stay out of sight! Were have you been?! The party is moving and the Swooners are getting closer!” Then releasing him, I asked, “Did you find any way out?”
Muse just glared at me, twitching his blue butterfly wings.
A knot caught in my stomach, and my hand shot out and grabbed his tail, “Don’t you dare try to fly off on me! I need your help!”
The beat in the music dropped and feet began stomping in the street. Very loudly. Very close.
“Ok, ok I’m sorry!” I let go of his tail and sat back, “I won’t get snippy at you. Just help me out here, please, I’m kind of trapped.” When he continued to glare silently, I crossed my arms and added, “If I get taken out, who will you have to bug and aggravate all the time?”
Muse perked up, then grinned, “Oh riiiight! I almost forgot about that.”
I suppressed an eye roll, and the murderous look from my face, and gave him a tight grin.
“Well the bad news,” Muse said, standing up and padding over to me, “the street is no longer there. But the good news is, the street still exists! It’s just all the way over there.” I looked in the direction he pointed, past the booth, past the dancing throng, past the music speakers, all the way to the other end of the square.
I sat down with a defeated plop. “Great. Just great. There’s no way I’m getting through that with my dignity still intact.”
“Oh, don’t be such a pouty princess,” Muse rubbed against my leg. “You can do it! I want to see you try.”
“More like you want to see me fail so you can laugh at me,” I corrected.
“Tsk, tsk,” Muse shook his head. “I won’t let you fail… completely. Just enough to amuse me.”
“I hate you,” I said, strapping my bag to the front of my body and readying myself.
Muse jumped up and settled himself on my shoulder, “I suggest you try to blend in as much as you can. If they think you’re already one of them, they won’t try to restrain and convert you.”
I shuttered. “Alrighty, I’ll try.”
Stepping out from the booth, I walked forward, trying to mimic the lazy stride usually exhibited by Swooners. Meanwhile, Muse leaped into the air and followed me from above.
Ok, I can do this….. I can do this…… how am I supposed to do this? I was starting to panic. The crowd was right before me. Men and women, mostly young adults, danced to throbbing music. If what they were doing could even be called dancing; from my view, it looked more like they were standing too close and jumping up and down, so they were just grinding against each other.
I felt like I was going to throwing up. I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I can’t do this.
Muse was already flying ahead and urging me on. With one last gulp of fresh air, I steeled my nerves and plunged into the crowd. All at once, bodies were pressed against me. I wanted to stiffen or squirm, maybe even slap away those around me, but I was trying to blend in and get out; I had to go along. I began jumping and moving with the rest. But always I was pressing forward, always I was trying to get out.
In the madness, I had no sense of direction, but thankful I had Muse flying above to follow. I only had to trust he was taking me the right way.
Things became a little more bearable as I got in rhyme with the crowd. I was learning how to avoid unwanted touching and dodging those trying to pull me into a closer dance or even random make-out session. Admittedly those were rare, as most were too occupied with each other. And those searching for a partner would just reach for the next closest girl, instead of chasing me.
There was no telling where I was when the music changed. My guess is I was halfway through the crowd and slightly to the left. There must have been a DJ, because suddenly someone was calling over a loudspeaker, “Put your hands in the air like you just don’t care! Tonight’s gonna be a good night! Grab somebody sexy, tell them heyyyy!!” Music began thumping as the crowd cheered. Hands flew up in the air, and bodies moved closer.
I felt hands moving to grab me, too many to combat, and I finally freaked out. “Leave me alone!” I screamed, slapping and punching the boys away. For a moment they stood back, looking dazed and confused. Then they recognized me as an outsider, a Single, and pounced.
I had already started running. I was shoving people left and right, my cover was blown, there was no going back.
Chaos broke out. People were screaming and pointing. A large number of the dancers had stopped bouncing, and they started coming after me. My breath came short and fast as I sprinted, and my mind was racing faster than my legs. Where was Muse? Can I get out in time? Was I even running in the right direction?
The DJ was on the speaker again, saying something that encouraged the Swayers coming after me. My bag was slamming against my chest, pushing the oxygen I need for my legs out of my body and weighing me down, but I could stop to drop it even if I wanted to – which I didn’t. I felt myself growing weak, but I couldn’t give up. With a last effort, I pushed past the people crowding in on me and found myself on the outside of the crowd.
For a moment I stood, panting and smiling. Then a hand grabbed my wrist. I was spun around to face a greasy-haired man with straight, white teeth and dull eyes. “Hey Baby,” he wrapped his other arm around my waist, “give me some sugar.”
My eyes widened in terror as his lips made a dive bomb at my face. My bulging backpack created just enough distance between us for me to twist and aim a quick kick into his knee. The man cried out and crumpled to the ground, taking me with him.
I kicked and pushed until I was able to roll away from his sluggish form. Meanwhile, the rest of the Swooners had gather very close indeed. There was no way I was breaking through them this time. I had a mob before me and a solid building behind me. The Swayer that had grabbed me was starting to get up. Panic set in heavier than ever, and suddenly I couldn’t breath.
“No… leave me alone… I don’t want to be one of you…..”
My feet took me backwards until I hit the wall. The crowd was moving close. My hands were knocking and creeping along the building, then I leapt back in surprise when they ran into a doorknob. A jolt of hope ran through me like electricity. I turned my back on the mob and faced the smooth, oak door. Without hesitation I grabbed the knob and turned it. The door swung open perfectly. I practically flew through the door, just in time to slam and lock it in the face of my pursuers.
The sounds from outside disappeared. There were no windows to see them through, and even though I was sure there were out there, they had teleported to another dimensioned for all I cared.
I breathed a huge sigh of relief and sank to the floor with my back against the door. It was only when I opened my eyes, after a long pause, that I noticed the little girl.
She was sitting at a low, round table filled with plastic tea cups and a deck of cards. Sitting all around the table were stuffed animals. Very familiar stuffed animals. My stuffed animals. All my favorite companions from my childhood.
The girl herself had blonde, light, and very untidy hair. Her clothes miss-matched, and her round face was fair and pink. She sat frozen with a tea cup raised in the air. I sat here, staring at her. And she sat there, staring at me with large round eyes, the exact same color as mine.
To be continued