From the author: Farrah Banks had planned a wonderful Valentine's Day party for her friends, but none of them could make it. In her disappointment, she is surprised to receive an unexpected Valentine box at her door. Her Valentine's Day is about to become far more interesting than she could have imagined.
Farrah Banks thumbed through her texts. She rolled her eyes at two, snorted at one, and pushed out her lower lip in disappointment at another.
“Can’t make it, sorry hon,” her bud Mack sent. “Jeff surprised me with last minute reservations.”
“Lol I forgot it’s my mom’s birthday, oops,” came Sam’s message.
“Not sure I’ll be able to,” texted Millie. She had no prepared excuse.
“Sorry,” wrote Finn.
It was the last one that stung the most. Not because she harbored a massive crush for Finn…although that certainly contributed. It was the clipped nature of it. No excuse, no nothing. She used to count on Finn to be at every event.
Farrah looked at the spread of ingredients she had bought for her Great Chocolate Party. Her phone chimed again, and again, and she sighed. More declines. She began putting the ingredients back in the pantry.
A Valentine’s Day with no one to share it with, she thought. Can’t someone share it with me?
She had got by with chocolate parties and sometimes girl’s nights. She reassured herself it was a stupid, candy maker and greeting card industry fabrication that meant nothing. Yet here she was, and this deep core of sadness grew in her. It stretched from her throat to her navel.
She reached back in for the chocolate chips she had just put away, intending to pour a fistful and throw them back into her mouth. But the doorbell rang.
Farrah had not installed a door camera, for which her friends admonished her, saying in low tones that it was a good idea. Her housemate traveled frequently, and just now he was away. She never answered the door if she didn’t know who was coming.
But she had heard a little thump, and then realized there must be a package waiting. She hadn’t ordered anything. She hesitated. She looked out the peephole and saw no one. Her phone kept chiming with all the declining texts for her party. Gritting her teeth, she finally opened the door.
On the doormat, there rested a gorgeous heart-shaped box, wrapped in magenta swirls of satin. It was a large Valentine candy box, or so it appeared to Farrah. There was no note attached.
She lifted it into her arms, closed her door, and locked the bolts. She set the beautiful box on her small kitchen table. Her phone kept chiming, and at first she ignored it. But then she thought maybe someone could have texted her saying they’d sent her the box.
But no: a quick scroll through her messages only irritated her more. Happy Valentine’s Day to me, she thought, frustrated. Then she turned her eyes back to the immaculate box. And her spirits rose.
Aloud, she said, “This is the prettiest box of chocolate I have ever seen.”
Nobody seemed to make this kind anymore. She had vague memories of elaborate lacy and velvety Valentine boxes for her mother, when Farrah was a little girl. Back when her own mother had named her for someone beautiful…someone she would never look like. But this one? It was exquisite, its lush satin tucked into rose shapes.
Farrah felt giddy. Something went right! she thought.
She couldn’t stand another minute. She opened the box. Inside, a heart-shaped cover rested above the contents. The cover itself sparkled in a million hues, or maybe more: iridescent glitter, only it moved. It shimmered and flowed, like sunlight glinting on a quick stream. In fact, she could almost hear the water…
And she fell.
She fell right into the heart-shaped box, head first, through swirls of glitter and blurs of rainbow color. She had one brief moment to wonder, Did I eat one of the candies and I’m high?
And then she landed. In water, in darkness, on hard stone. The only light around her came from the heart-shaped iridescent cover, which lay on the ground beside her. It shone upward, and she looked above her, and saw only stalactites dripping.
Her wrists hurt from softening her most unexpected fall. She stood, and her jeans were damp in the rear. She rubbed her hands together to remove dirt and grit. She felt cold and sore and stunned. Yet that glorious, rainbow-sparkly heart shape shone. She did not know what else to do, so she reached down to pick it up.
It was dark on one side, but the other provided glorious light.
What is happening? she managed to think.
She held out the heart to look around her, and it shown like a lamp through the darkness of the cave. This at first reassured her. At least she could see. She turned one way, and the light shone into the distance. Then she turned the other way.
Light reflected in a thousand eyes, staring at her.
She felt her body go tense, and she tried to breathe, and the air pinched in her chest, and all she could do was moan at first, for nothing else would come out: but she wanted to scream.
A slow shuffling sound met her ears, and the eyes advanced.
Making a panicked sort of bark, Farrah turned. With her Valentine lamp, she fled the other way. She stumbled and scraped herself, and hit her head on stalactites, and splashed through puddles, propelled by the madness of fear.
Finally her chest hurt so much she had to stop for a moment. She wept silently as she slowly turned the glowing heart behind her. And there they all were: eyes, eyes beyond number, eyes of all sizes. She squawked, and turned to run again, and then found her legs meeting nothing solid, and she fell and bumped and slid.
She landed at last, clutching the heart-lamp to her chest. Its light radiated into the darkness, and she could see something dim, another light source. She swung her heart-light upward, and no eyes danced there. She took a deep breath, and stood in pain.
She walked toward the light source, which was so faint that she imagined there must be only two photons coming from it. But it grew, and she could see, by and by, a more defined path.
I don’t know what’s there, but it’s better than the eyes, she reasoned.
A notch in the stone of the cavern led to a vast opening, so she walked through, and then stood with her lips parted in stupor at what she saw.
There stood a high dais, built of horns and teeth and talons, and glinting with raw jewels of many colors. On this dais sat a throne of opal, which shimmered even more than the heart in her hands. And on this opal throne, a figure reached its head forward to look at her better.
It was immensely tall, perhaps nine feet, perhaps more. Its muscles rippled, but the hands with their long fingers betrayed a great age. Its skin looked deep purple in the light, and its long, straight hair shone magenta: the exact hue of the Valentine box cover. The face!
In the lines of the face, a sharp nose and a strong brow framed eyes that glowed like fading embers in a fire. Something resembling a smile formed on this etched face.
Its voice, lustrous and melodious, spoke to her:
“You received the gift,” it said.
“Yes,” she said, and she felt her sweaty hands loosen on the heart. “Who are you? And where am I?”
“I am Lord Vatenite,” he replied. “You are in my realm. Step closer, Farrah Banks.”
Farrah’s hair stood up on her neck.
“How do you know me?” she asked.
And she would have liked to run away, but could not. She felt compelled to walk to the Lord.
Lord Vatenite stood then, and walked down the steps of his dais to meet Farrah. He loomed over her from his great height, and stared with his fiery eyes down into her face, with her jaws clenched.
“You asked for me,” said Lord Vatenite.
“I didn’t,” Farrah protested.
“Yes, you did,” said Lord Vatenite. “You asked quite distinctly, ‘Can’t someone share it with me?’ Referring, of course, to this preposterously overblown holiday you humans adore flagellating yourselves with.”
Farrah opened her eyes so wide that she feared they might pop right out and roll onto the ground.
“Did I die?” she asked helplessly. “Is this hell?”
And Lord Vatenite threw back his magenta hair and laughed, which echoed through his great chamber. Startled bats rustled above them.
“Farrah,” said Lord Vatenite, “in all your years, you have imagined the perfect day. It is always the same day. It is today. There is chocolate, there is adoration, you are valued. You thought no one cared. But I did.”
Stunned, Farrah asked, “Why me?”
Lord Vatenite waved his hand and a tray appeared, laden with dozens of chocolates and flowers and two goblets filled with a violet drink.
“Will you sit with me?” he asked her. “I have made you everything you wanted on this day, over the years. Even the strange little candy hearts. I would very much like to share them with you.”
“Why?” Farrah repeated.
Lord Vatenite looked down at her.
“It is dark in the pit, and I like it this way; else I would not have volunteered to rule it, so long ago,” he told her, with little sparks flying off his eyes. “You were always trying to find a cave when you were growing up, and sometimes you succeeded. Your friends were always frightened, but you were not. You were never afraid in the dark. And you were kind, and generous, and you wanted your friends not to feel lonely on Valentine’s Day.”
Farrah, unsure how to respond, simply nodded.
Lord Vatenite continued, “I watched your sadness when your friends fell away,” and Farrah felt her cheeks go hot. “While I do enjoy it down here, sometimes it is a little boring. And your parties looked like such fun.”
“So…you’ve watched me my whole life?” asked Farrah.
“Oh,” laughed Lord Vatenite, “not every moment. But when someone enters my realm, I take notice of their lives, and how they live them. Yours is extraordinary. What you do matters.”
Farrah wrinkled her nose. “I’ve never felt that way. I just wanted to make chocolate treats and share them.”
“You have done much more than that,” countered Lord Vatenite. “You helped me believe in true kindness. One forgets, over the ages, what that is like. Thank you, Farrah Banks. Now, will you share the treats with me?”
Farrah felt a deep happiness. She looked up at Lord Vatenite, who gestured at the tray of goodies. He picked up one of the candy hearts, and it looked tiny in his large, purple hands. He held it out to her, and she took it. She read it and laughed.
It said, “Be Mine.”