Ashlyn Harper had no idea she was about to embark on the worst date of her life. Considering her dating history, which was quite short as it was, that was saying something. She'd let her friend arrange a blind date, and that made her a little nervous. But really, what else did she have to do with her Valentine's day?
She arrived at the Mystical Kitten Cafe at 7, and, going by the picture her friend texted of the guy, started looking around for him. All she had was a picture and a name, Kevin.
She finally found him at a corner table. When he spotted her, he stood up and waved. So far so good, it was even a candle-lit table. In the center of the table were floating red heart-shaped candles in sparkling crystal holders. Kevin sat without bothering to pull her chair out for her, so she did it herself.
"Hi," Ashlyn finally said.
"Glad you found the place okau. I heard about this from friends, and it sounded nice," Kevin said by way of a greeting.
A waiter approached, handing them menus.
"I'm Shane, I'll be taking care of you this evening," he said.
Kevin ordered the cheapest bottle of wine on the menu, not even asking if she preferred red or white wine. She told herself to see how it went, because maybe he was new at this dating thing.
Most of the time, while they waited for their meals, Kevin texted on his phone, occasionally laughing at something he read. Ashlyn tried to make a few stabs at conversation, but was rewarded with short answers in between his texting. The wine arrived, and Shane poured it into glasses for them.
"May the force be with you!" Kevin cried, clinking his glass with hers.
"Um..." she mumbled, thinking to herself, is he for real?
For something on the cheap side, the wine wasn't too awful. They ordered an appetiser of chicken spring rolls.
As they were finishing, two guys came over to the table with their dates. Kevin introduced them as Lenweed and Stefen. Kevin explained that Lenweed was a mash up of his real name and his favorite illegal pastime. Ashlyn wrinkled her nose at this fact.
Suddenly, the guys were pulling up chairs at the table and joining them.
"Sorry we're late," Stefen drawled, snatching a menu.
"Yeah, one of my ex girls came over today and slashed my tires. I had to get a rental, then pick Stefen and Marissa up," Lenweed told them.
"I didn't know we were meeting people," Ashlyn said with a slightly annoyed tone.
First he barely seemed to want to get to know her, then has people show up that she had no idea had been invited nor even knew. Lenweed's date, who's name was Juniper, was, as she informed them as they waited for their meals, a stripper by night and a mechanic by day.
"She can give me a tune up anytime," Lenweed said loudly as he drank his third glass of champagne.
These people were so weird, Ashlyn thought to herself. She just prayed the evening would get better. She didn't truly want to go home and sit alone on Valentine's. Both her sisters were out on probably much better dates that she'd have to hear about later that night. She had a sinking feeling her story would not be measuring up in any good way this time around.
Kevin excused himself to visit the bathroom, and Juniper went back to the car for something she'd left.
While they were away, Lenweed leaned over to Ashlyn and whispered, "I could fit you in, when I finish rocking Juniper's world tonight."
She gave him a very dirty look and moved her chair away. What a sleezeball.
Minutes later, Kevin and Juniper rejoined them. Marissa actually tried to get to know Ashlyn more than her own date, and, while it was nice, it was kind of sad. She and Marissa got into a conversation about both their love of Taylor Swift, and then moved on to talk about books. That soon turned into finding out they were both avid Harry Potter fans. Stefen had brought along his pet demonic bunny. Ashlyn figured he was joking about that though, and the little horns atop its head must be glued on. It was in a carrier by his feet under the table.
After their meals arrived, chicken salad wrap for Ashlyn and fettuccine alfredo for Kevin, his phone rang.
"Yes, Mommy, I'll be home by midnight. No, we will not have sex." He listened then said, "Okay, I will be sure and zip my pants if I use the bathroom."
When he hung up, the others were exchanging bewildered looks and shaking from silent laughter. Even Ashlyn had a coughing fit, trying not to laugh, and grabbed for her glass of iced raspberry tea.
"Aren't you, like, 29?" Stefen asked Kevin, who nodded and sighed.
After dinner, the bills came—yes, that's correct, bills. Kevin never told the waiter the check was all one. So Ashlyn paid for her own food. They left then, agreeing to meet the others at the movies.
On the drive over in Kevin's beat up puke-green Honda, he played Taylor Swift for her.
"So you were listening to my conversation?" she asked, really very surprised.
He nodded. That was about the nicest thing he'd done all night; maybe there was hope after all.
Her hopes, however, were dashed in the lobby of the theater when, without asking what she wanted to see, he said, "Two tickets for Star Wars The Last Jedi."
"Oh, but..." she started to say, but it was pointless because he was already taking back his credit card.
Least he'd paid, she supposed, considering she'd gotten no choice in the matter. She had really wanted to see a comedy.
When the others arrived, Marissa suggested they go grab snacks for the movie. Ashlyn followed, noticing they had an icy machine.
"I love the blue raspberry," she told Marissa happily as they stood in the very long line at the concession counter.
Marissa nodded, stepped closer, and whispered to Ashlyn, "I think that bunny Stefen's dragging around is kind of weird," to which Ashlyn agreed.
"So you hadn't met till tonight either?" Ashlyn asked her as the line slowly moved up.
Marissa nodded. "My sister set me up. They had a class or something together, and I had nothing to do, and well..."
"It was better than sitting at home alone on Valentine's? Watching romantic movies and devouring a pint of icecream?" Ashlyn finished for her.
"Exactly," Marissa agreed.
Kevin bought a small popcorn that he didn't so much as share, or ask if she'd like anything. It turned out to be a good thing that she'd bought her own snack.
The movie had been on for maybe twenty minutes, when Kevin leaned over and asked, "So how do you feel about soap?"
Confused, Ashlyn just shrugged.
"I mean, do you like to play with it? See how foamy it gets? It's almost a magical experience, bubbles and water," Kevin went on.
They'd been together all evening, and he'd barely said anything to her, but this was what he got excited about? Freaking soap? She couldn't believe her luck. A bore, a rude jerk, and a mental case all in one go.
"What kind of hand soap is in your bathroom?" Kevin wanted to know.
"The kind that cleans your hands," she snapped, finding the conversation annoying at this point.
"Do you use a bar of soap, or foaming body wash in the shower?" he persisted.
"Could you shut up about soap, please? I can't hear the movie," Ashlyn answered.
"But wait, do you use a washcloth in the shower, or just splash soap on you with your hands?" Kevin kept going.
Ashlyn shot him a vicious glare, and moved down the row.
"Ooh, do you want a piece of this sweetness?"
She made the mistake of sitting down next to Lenweed, who was about to slide his hand up her skirt. She slapped his hand away, and slid down a few more seats, sitting next to Marissa and Stefen.
"The nerve of that jerk," Marissa whispered to Ashlyn, outraged.
"You saw that?" Ashlyn asked, irritated she'd left her icy in the cupholder of her first seat.
"I forgot my icy," Ashlyn whispered back.
"I'll get it," Marissa said, slipping down the aisle quickly, and retrieving the drink.
They returned to watching the movie. All was quiet, until a loud crackling of static was heard, and the lights as well as the movie went off.
"Alright, let's get this party started the right way!"
The bunny that'd been tucked away in Stefen's carrier had somehow escaped, and floated in mid-air above them. It took Ashlyn a few seconds to process what she was seeing.
"This isn't real; has to be special effects," Marissa said to her.
"I have a really, really bad suspicion, it's not!" Ashlyn cried.
The bunny was pure black, with sharp little horns that she'd seen earlier, and assumed were glued on, or some sort of costume type thing for pets, but now glowed red as he floated cackling above them.
"Oh, no," Stefen muttered, seeing that the latch on the carrier had been broken. "I thought he was locked up tight, but his powers..." He trailed off, looking just as shocked as everyone in the theater. "I got him as a gift, but he's nothing but an endless curse!" he wailed.
The bunny's ears, at least six inches long, swayed gently as he floated, and when an idea to cause more chaos came to him, they waggled, making a soft crackling sound. People ducked and screamed at one point, as pods of smelly gelatinous goo pelted down on them, bursting on impact. It stained people's clothing, and left them smelling strongly of a mixture of rotten eggs and rancid meat. Some people swore some of the goo smelled like vomit.
People bolted for the doors, but found they wouldn't budge. As they desperately tugged, the bunny cackled joyfully overhead. People started reaching for their phones, only to find they had no reception.
"It's pointless! I jammed the phones!" the bunny cried with glee.
Once more, people shrieked and ducked, at least, the people unlucky enough to be sitting below one of the air vents in the ceiling. Because, just then, multicolored whipped cream began to foam out of the vent, and plop down on those people.
"What's Valentine's without something a little sweet!" the bunny screamed.
Girls screamed, frantically trying to mop up whipped cream off their clothes, purses, and hair, all while trying to get out of the rows being flooded with fluffy whipped cream. It just kept coming, mounting higher and higher.
"It's pointless! Quit trying to clean yourselves!" the bunny called from his spot high above, still hovering over everyone.
"Some other time, this might be fun, but I paid 80 dollars for this new dress and heels just for Valentine's!" a girl cried as she finally escaped the mountain of whipped cream on her row.
"It doesn't pay to look good, does it, darling?" the bunny shouted to her, followed up by a high-pitched giggle.
The girl flipped him off.
"That's such an unflattering gesture for a lady," the bunny said.
"Oh, yes, and you're a real gentleman," she said sarcastically as she ran up the aisle, looking for a clean place to sit.
The bunny snickered as he spotted some guys trying to break, or force open one of the windows.
"Also blocked! You mortals, you just don't get the powers I possess," the bunny said in a mock pitying tone.
"You know, I do believe we're on the date from Hell," Marissa said to Ashlyn who nodded.
"Why couldn't it be soap foaming from the vents?" was all that Kevin had to offer through the madness.
"Baby, want to make use of this whipped cream?" Lenweed asked Juniper.
She shot him a truly incredulous look. "In front of everyone? Are you insane?"
"Hey, I'm not shy," Lenweed said. "No offence, and it's not that I want you to or anything, but you know, you strip in front of strangers every night. I'd think you'd be the person least worried about doing..."
"Certain promiscuous activities with an audience," Stefen pointed out to Juniper.
"Well, I mean, some of these people have kids with them. I do have some standards," she said lamely.
Just then, music began to play.
"Let's dance! Shake what your mama gave you!" the bunny crooned. "Or in your case, what the surgeon gave you!" he called to a blonde with a rather expansive backside in the front row.
"How... Could you know that?" she screeched, half shocked, half indignant.
"I'll never tell," the bunny said tauntingly. "You there!" the bunny called, this time to Marissa. "How's the witness protection program treating you?"
"How's it going, Carlie sweetheart?" the bunny called to her.
"I... That's supposed to be secret," she whimpered in fear.
"It's true?" Ashlyn asked her, looking surprised.
"Yes, I witnessed a murder, and they haven't caught the people. They're really powerful and dangerous individuals, so I had to go into hiding."
"Oh, damn," Ashlyn said, realizing that now a theater full of people knew who Marissa was, and unlikely as it was, if these people were hunting her to hush her up, they might just have followed her here. But for the moment, they probably had bigger problems, Ashlyn told herself.
In the row behind them were a mother and daughter who'd come to the movie tonight by the names of Sandra and Adriana. After the bunny's accusation, Ashlyn heard the daughter say to the mother, "When we get out of here, Mom, we need to contact witness protection, and get Marissa a new identity assignment."
Her mom nodded.
"Wait, what?" Marissa asked, turning around.
"We weren't supposed to tell you, but we've been in town keeping an eye on you just in case something like this went wrong," Adriana told her. "We're both agents with the FBI; we help with special victims such as yourself who are in the program. We also are here to make sure if someone is following you, we nab them first."
"Wow," Marissa said, taking it in on top of the other madness happening around them.
"Too bad we can't shoot this bunny," Sandra said, gesturing to the holster hidden inside her pink and white jacket.
"Yeah. Sadly, I doubt guns work on demons," Ashlyn replied with a sigh.
"If you're wondering what's going on outside, the ticket venders and the people in concession are enjoying a nice trance-like state all thanks to yours truly. So if they hear anything, they're far too out of it to pay it any mind. So please, don't be entertaining any wild fantasies about rescue coming in the form of theater staff," the bunny announced to them all.
"We're doomed," Lenweed said.
"I want my mommy and my blanky!" Kevin cried.
"Grow up, man! Seriously," Stefen advised Kevin.
Kevin pulled a bright purple furry wallet with a giant smiley face embroidered on the front from his pocket. He slid his license out, checked something, stuffed it back inside, and pocketed the wallet.
"I'm an organ donor if we don't make it out of here alive," he informed them.
"Who cares about that right now?" Ashlyn snapped, truly growing tired of him.
"I'm just glad he's not donating his brain to anyone if he dies," Marissa muttered to Ashlyn, who laughed.
"I'm so tired of dancing, but I don't think I can stop," Ashlyn cried, trying to force her feet to remain stationary.
But they refused, as if they were completely out of her control.
"I can't stop either!" Marissa told her, trying to stop as well.
"Dance, dance, dance!" the bunny chanted insanely.
"My heel broke!" a woman called.
"Too bad! Keep going!" the bunny hollered.
Someone slipped on a puddle of melting whipped cream, and the people in the nearby rows heard a crack.
"My ankle!" the guy who had fallen called.
He was jerked to his feet, as if grabbed by a pair of invisible hands, and kept moving, looking very unbalanced.
"Dance through the pain!" the bunny shouted.
"Can't you do anything?" Ashlyn pleaded with Stefen.
"I can't. I just can't get rid of him. He doesn't take orders, or I would have stopped this a long time ago. My ex gave him to me when she left, and it's like I'm cursed to be followed and tormented by him forever."
"I take it it was a bad break up," Ashlyn said sarcastically.
Stefen nodded, and suddenly, the people in the back of the theater closest to the doors started to exclaim and shout things like, "What the!" and "What is that?" People tried to look, but it was hard to keep watch and continue dancing.
Something like jelly seemed to be oozing in and around the cracks between the door and the doorframe. Near the door, the bits of goo that were shades of green and blue started to form until a large ball of what seemed to be jello sat on the floor, gently quaking. There was a pop like the sound of a bottle of wine being uncorked. A head, also formed from jello, had beady black eyes, a sort of squashed nose, and a curved slash that seemed to be carved into the jello must have served as a mouth. Splat, splat, splat! That was the only way to describe the sound the jello thing's body smacking against the concrete floor made as it bounced up the aisle.
The bunny was still hovering over the room, cracking horrible jokes that were either bad, or mean insults directed at people. It was usually personal information they probably didn't want shared with the world. A couple of girls and guys that had been informed they were being cheated on by the person they were with were now no longer couples. The girls sobbed, tears causing their makeup to run, and, as if that weren't bad enough to be told on Valentine's, they were still being forced to dance on through their misery.
"It is time to end your reign of terror," the jello thing spoke to the bunny, finally coming to a stop directly under the hovering demonic bunny.
Surprisingly, the jello thing had a sultry-sounding voice, with a soft southern lilt.
"Not the Amazing Bouncing Jello!" the bunny cried, for once looking terrified.
"It is I," she said simply, because from that voice, it was clear it was female. "I have been tracking your movements, and it took me a while to get here, but now I have, and I have come to stop the madness," she went on, speaking to the bunny.
He let out a mournful whimper that, had he not been pure evil and a demon, would have tugged the heartstrings. He fell to the floor with a soft thump in front of the bouncing jello.
"Goodbye demon," she said sweetly as she bounced forward, rolling right over the bunny.
They all heard a sucking sound like the sound you hear when a hungry baby sucks a bottle. The bunny, it seemed, had been sucked up inside the quivering mass of blue-green jello. The jello paused, and a second later, a set of paws emerged from the underside. She walked, not bounced, to the guy with the broken ankle. Gently, she placed a paw to his ankle and healed it.
"Is that better?" she asked in her soft, lilting voice.
"Much, thank you," he said in relief, gingerly putting his weight on it just in case it wasn't truly healed—but it was.
When the bunny had vanished, the music had stopped, and the whipped cream and the foul-smelling gelatinous goo that had been everywhere had vanished too. People fell, panting on the floor and exhausted from dancing nonstop.
"So thirsty," some of them moaned, grabbing for sodas and icies they'd bought for the movie, drinking greedily.
"Well, nice to meet you all. Have a good evening and a lovely Valentine's Day," the jello told them all as she bounced to the door. She stopped at the threshold, and said regretfully, "I do apologise for all of you who had your hearts broken tonight. Sadly, there's no magic to fix the truth. But you will find better."
With that, she magically bounced through the closed door. The lights flipped back on, and the movie resumed; but by this time, no one cared about the movie. Everyone was dying to get out of there. There was a mad rush for the door.
In the lobby, Kevin asked Ashlyn if she wanted a ride home and if he could see her again.
"No and no thank you," she said.
"You can get a cab home with me," Marissa offered, joining her after she'd talked to Adriana and Sandra.
Stefen was ecstatic to finally be free of the demonic bunny, and without his furry tag-along, Marissa, it seemed, had decided to give him another chance.
"I'll call you," she said as she and Ashlyn got into the back of a cab waiting for them at the curb. "I'll probably be reassigned, and have to move and be given a new name and job," Marissa told Ashlyn. "But as you know the truth now, I won't have to disappear on you."
Ashlyn smiled, and accepted the slip of paper with Marissa's number on it. She may not have ended the evening with a true love, but at least she now had a new friend.
As they all left the theater, Lenweed and Juniper looked to be off for an evening of lust, not so much love. For someone who had claimed to at least have restraint in front of young children, Juniper showed absolutely none as they stood in the parking lot. They made out against Lenweed's car, and his hand roamed up her top.
"Get a room, please!" Ashlyn called to them, disgusted.
When they reached Ashlyn's house, inspiration struck. She was on the verge of slamming the cab door, when she stopped, and turned back to Marissa.
"This might just sound completely boring, and be the thing we most wanted to avoid doing on Valentine's Day, but would you want to stay a while to watch some chick flicks and drown our sorrows of a truly bad evening in chocolate and icecream?"
Marissa grinned, getting out of the cab, and slamming the door. "Sure, why not. Besides, it sucks doing that sort of thing alone, but, you know, it kind of helps having a friend to share your misery with."
Laughing, they entered the house, debating what movie to watch first, and the best flavor of ice cream.