One restless night of fitful tossing and turning later and you’ve struck on an idea: you need to make a board game. It came to you in a dream, like most things do these days, but it faded quickly, leaving only a remnant of an idea. That idea? Using a magic feather to undo a mistake. You’re not sure how that will at all translate into a boardgame, but that isn’t going to stop you. It’s time to get the pen and paper and who are we kidding, it’s time for coffee. You make a note in your bedside dream journal (“Magic feather? Fix everything!”) and roll out of bed, expertly tripping yourself as you try to get your slippers on and faceplanting into the rough carpet. You lay there a moment, wondering just where it all went wrong, and the doorbell rings. You frown. There’s no one in the world that you know that even gets up before noon, and here you are, poor thing, up at the crack of ten, and someone is ringing your doorbell. A lot. You’d figure it to be some punk kid, but there aren’t any on the floors around, and really, a ding-dong-dash is a ring or two, not this protracted cacophony of chimes. You swear to yourself, then out loud, and push up onto your knees before using the bedside table to steady yourself on your short ascent to a more vertical position.
Making sure your robe is well cinched (everyone has a camera phone these days) you shuffle to your front door and slide the peephole cover to the right, peering out into the hall. There’s just blackness, unnatural for all the light coming in your kitchenette window. The doorbell stops, and so does your breathing, as you feel something scrape against the toe of your left slipper. You jump back and see first one card, then two, three, how many are there and how lapse has the landlady been with fixing the draft extruding flap thingamafuckit that’s letting someone launch this mail in. The envelopes are all in pink, some with hearts, some with bears, all with the same word in a bold, black, I-couldn’t-find-anything-but-a-fat-Sharpee hand: VALENTINE. You’re not one to panic, but you’re panicking. You grab the nail-studded bat you keep by the door for these sorts of special occasions and unchain, unlatch, unbolt, and unlock your door. You throw it wide, arm raised over your head in some ancient primal pose, and you bring the bat down hard on the dark figure in the doorway. It squeaks and you scream just a little bit, startlement you tell yourself, not fear, startlement, as the four-foot tall purple plush teddy bear collapses to its left side, a righteous tear and a shattered pink eye for its trouble. You shout just about everything you’re not allowed to say on television, then cable, then fucking HBO at the sound of retreating footsteps beating a hasty retreat down the stairwell.
You make it to the bannister overlooking the parking lot in time to see a short little black woman beating cheeks out of sight. You knew who it was the second the doorbell went off, when the cards came in, when the bear took mortal damage for the team, and still, it’s not until you see those braids bouncing off her shoulders that you let it sink in. She isn’t going to be going away anytime soon, and maybe it’s time to get the pigs involved with something more than a donut run.
You go back into your apartment and leave the fallen bear where it lay. Lock, bolt, latch, chain. You set the bat in easy reach, just in case, and start picking up the cards. Morbid interest and a general self-loathing demand you open the cards, and so you do. The first is a standard pink and red heart on a white background. “Be Mine, Valentine”. Inside there’s some illegible handwriting, but you make out love and forever well enough to raise the bile in your stomach. You throw it into the trash and open the next. “Thinking Of You” floats above a small tabby kitten. It’s cute, but not cute enough to ignore that she’s recoloured its eyes to match yours, or to overlook the fat blue lipstick’d kiss on the little thing’s lips. You don’t bother to read this one, and are tossing it through the air when something small and black swings out and onto the floor. You kill the cat and pick up the rectangle. It’s a picture. Of you. Picking out peppers.
You tear through the remainders, all of them increasingly bizarre (“Wish You Were Her”, “Thinking Of You In Your Time Of Need”, “Happy 50th Anniversary”) and all of them containing candid snapshots of your last day out. There’s you in the parking lot at the Kroger. There’s you leaving your car at your apartment. There’s a blurry, zoomed in picture of you through your kitchen window. You do your best not to vomit in a quick panic, and you’re a pro, so it’s only a little bit, and you swallow it back down like a proper lady. You chase it with some old Evan Williams and a couple clonazepam to get your heart out of hummingbird territory. You don’t restate the obvious about her knowing you and your habits, but your brain does, a number of times, and maximum volume. This is not good. This is double-plus ungood even. And it’s about that time that your cellphone rings.
It’s an unknown caller and you let it go to voicemail. You wait. There’s a voicemail notification ping, and you’re about to dial it up, when the phone starts to ring again. Same number. Same number of rings. Same time to voicemail. Same ping. You hurriedly add the number to the blocked list (thank you, fucking nerd programmers for getting around to that goddamned feature so late in the life-cycle of these things) and, deep breath in, you call your voicemail service. There’re 15 seconds of jagged breathing. Next message. Moaning. Next message. “I’m coming. I’m coming for you.”. You just mash “7” and delete the rest. You pull up Google Chrome and type in “nonemergency police deot numbr” but it’s got your back, and your Location info knows where to send you. It’s not time for 911, not yet, but it’s time for someone. You punch in the number and wait for the pickup on the other end.