Part 1: A Mishap and a Mystery
We found the bow and its quiver of arrows jammed way back in a rusty cupboard at the rear of the drama club’s prop storage closet. Every year, Washington High puts on a stage performance, and the bow and quiver were from some long ago past production. Only two of the arrows in the quiver were real—the others were shorter fakes glued to the inside, to make it look full.
I was reading an Agatha Christie in the bleachers when it happened.
Rob started monkeying around with the bow, and before we knew it one of the arrows went straight into the gymnasium ceiling, where it stuck. The strange old guy who was supposed to be supervising us wasn’t paying attention. Toby warned Rob to be careful, but it was too late. Rob’s second shot was much more graceful; the arrow soared cleanly toward the stage where Janey sat with her legs dangling, doing her homework. The shaft embedded itself in her calf and she screeched.
Janey is my best friend, and has been since I moved here in grade school. We had joined the drama club together because we both kind of fantasized about becoming actresses, and because there are some really cute guys in the club every year. Now we were seniors, with graduation coming up, and neither one of us was likely to gain a lead role in whatever the upcoming play was going to be. (Mr. Lopez hadn’t decided yet.) I had had my chance last year, but just because I’m Japanese, or Japanese-American, or whatever, doesn’t mean I want to play Hiawatha, or any other Indian.
Anyway, since it was Sunday the paramedics arrived pretty quickly and prepared to carry Janey to the ambulance. There wasn’t a lot of blood, but it was really gross to see the arrow sticking out of her leg. She was still unconscious, and Rob was really getting in the way trying to, first, apologize to her (and anyone else who would listen), and second, help carry her books and things.
“Let them take her to the hospital, asshole!” I shouted at him. I’m not really a mean person, but he deserved it. What an idiot. Mr. Lopez sure picked the wrong day to leave us unsupervised, and the old guy who was there hadn’t done anything to keep the boys in line.
I grabbed Janey’s books and papers and started carrying them to my car. The paramedics wouldn’t let anyone ride in the ambulance, so Rob and some others started making plans to go in their cars.
I don’t know. Don’t get me wrong, Rob isn’t an asshole. In fact he’s a great actor but he sure needs to learn not to take things too far. I wondered what Janey was going to say to him when she woke up. I guess I’m the only one who knew for sure that she had a small crush on him. Okay, make that a big crush. It was a huge secret because all three of us lived in the same part of the suburbs, and also because Rob’s girlfriend Cindy was kind of our friend sometimes, when she wasn’t being a bitch.
I had driven pretty fast, once I signed out of school and got everything loaded into my car. After taking my name, the nurse prepared to show me to Janey’s room. I hurried past her and peeked into Janey’s room on my own, which was a huge mistake, because the nurse looked as if she might tackle me. All I saw was a brief glimpse of Janey sleeping before I was jerked away from the door and it was closed in my face.
“Hold on, you’re not family, are you?”
“Well, I’m sorry but—”
“I’ve got her books out in my car,” I tried to explain. “The school told me she has to have her books here so she can finish her homework. It’s important.”
She bought my panicked expression (I did mention I was in the drama club, right?) and eventually agreed to let me deliver the books. I ran out to my car. It seemed to take forever to get to the parking garage and back, but when I did return with an armload of Janey’s things the nurse was a bit more friendly. At last she showed me to Janey’s room and started answering my questions.
“Your friend has had a traumatic experience, and is sleeping, so don’t try to talk to her,” she said. I nodded. Since my hands were full, she had to open the door wide enough for me to enter. “We’re still doing some tests, and we’ll be keeping her overnight for observation. She might have slipped into a brief coma after the accident but don’t worry, she’ll be fine. You can tell all her friends she’ll make a full recovery.”
“Coma?” I asked. Maybe the nurse realized she shouldn’t have told me that, because she didn’t say anything.
“And her leg?” I asked.
“We stitched her up nice and tight. She’ll barely have even a scar. It was only a flesh wound, all in all.”
I thanked the woman and she went back to the nurse’s station.
They gave Janey a room by herself, which was nice. It was drab and painted in that ugly hospital green color, but it was okay enough, I guess. It had a TV. Janey looked so young sleeping in the bed, with her long blonde hair hanging over one side of the pillow. Asleep, she looked like she had in grade school. She was so cute! Her leg was under the covers, so I couldn’t see it. (I didn’t really want to see stitches, anyway.) I put her notebooks and things on the shelf by her bed and sat down next to her. I held her hand, wondering if she would wake up, but she didn’t. Maybe she was on painkillers.
That’s when I noticed a huge bouquet of flowers on one side of the room, sitting on one of the chairs. That’s funny, I thought, I didn’t see those a few minutes ago when I looked in, before going out to my car... At least I didn’t remember seeing them. And who would give Janey flowers? I looked for a card but there wasn’t one. Finally I decided that maybe the hospital had brought the flowers here, but they sure did look nice, and a little expensive.
On a shelf next to the flowers was part of the arrow, wrapped several times in a sheet of clear plastic. I guess the emergency room doctors put it there. Holding the bundle up, I unwrapped it enough to cringe when I saw some of Janey’s blood on the end. Removing more of the plastic, I noticed that the doctors or whoever had sawed the wood off neatly. Turning it in my hands, I noticed that the shaft was hollow, and that’s when some dark syrupy liquid started to leak out of the hole where the wood had been cut.
“Shit!” I whispered.
Reflexively, I cupped my hand and caught the thick black fluid before it could get on the floor, and hurried over to the tiny bathroom. I threw both the arrow and the palmful of liquid into the sink, and then washed my hand. Yuck, I thought. What is this crap? At first I had thought it was blood, but it was much too dark. I scrubbed with soap and hot water until it finally came off.
I started to walk back to Janey, but suddenly I felt really dizzy. You know if you get up too quickly after sitting for a long time? But my vision didn’t blur or anything, I just felt really weird and unsteady, and my palm where that crap had touched the skin started tingling.
“What’s happening?” I said.
I know this sounds really stupid, but the colors in the room started to change. But they were the same, still, too. The same, but different. It’s like, how do you know that the colors you see match what everyone else sees? Maybe where I see green, other people see purple, or something completely different. Anyway, something weird happened to the color pink. As I left the bathroom, the pink in the flowers stood out like they were beacons or something. My eyes were drawn toward them, as if they were the most important things in the room. I shook my head to try and clear the dizziness, but it didn’t help. The flowers were so important, so beautiful. I couldn’t concentrate.
But as I neared them, I saw Janey’s lips. They were an even more perfect shade of pink... even brighter...
Her lips were so beautiful, my eyes wanted to drink them up. I guess it was her lipstick. And suddenly I started to feel, I don’t know, aroused. I was breathing faster, and like some sort of waking dream I was approaching the perfect rose tint of my friend’s lips with a weird sort of anticipation that I didn’t even understand, but that I felt in my hardening nipples, and further below...
I reached her bedside, and her lips were so small, while their color was so big. My hand was really tingling. It has to be that gunk, I thought. What was it? I knew the poison or whatever it was inside the shaft was doing this weird thing to me, but that didn’t make it any easier to resist. I absently rubbed my tingling palm up my waist, my stomach, and over one boob and hard nipple as I leaned over Janey’s sleeping form. Stop, I commanded myself, what are you doing?
I willed myself to resist, but the closer my eyes got to my best friend’s lips, the more that delicious shade of pink enraptured me. I couldn’t help myself. Lower, and lower, soon I could feel her breath on my face. I was so close that when I licked my own lips my tongue brushed her chin, and she stirred slightly. Thank goodness! Her brief movement away from me was all I needed to break the spell, and I turned away in a decisive act of willpower.
I was almost in tears, and one breast hurt. I realized I was still squashing my right boob with my hand, which was still tingling. I let myself go and noticed I was facing Janey’s books and things. But why couldn’t I see them? Why couldn’t I see anything? Why couldn’t I think?
Tunnel vision. Pink tunnel vision. What would Freud say about that?
Sticking out from under one of Janey’s notebooks, was a brilliant triangle of pink—it’s hard for me to describe—importance. The color... It was one of those fluorescent pinks that glows under a black light. Its necessity was so great that not only didn’t I see the books around it, I didn’t care about them. I didn’t care about anything.
My tingling hand reached out for it, and by feeling the surface of the books and papers, I realized that it was an index card, or something similar, and pulled it free from beneath the notebook. It flared into brilliance in front of me, as if I had lit a match inside a cave.
I held it in front of my face, in both hands. The pink was so pure, so right. My fascination was so powerful that I felt helpless and scared. It dwarfed my tiny, unimportant thoughts. How could I be so interested in this piece of pink paper? Where had it come from? Was it Janey’s? Did it come with the flowers? Had it already been here in the room, had I just put her books down on top of it? My head was full of pink fog. It was several minutes before I realized something was written on the card. It was hard to make out, because I felt so spacey and dizzy...
Finally I was able to read the typewritten text, by looking at the pink around it and doing a kind of subtraction in my head.
I HAVE CAST A SPELL ON YOU.YOU WILL DO ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING I COMMAND.I WILL CONTROL YOU, IN MIND AND BODY.
And the most frightening thing of all was that it seemed familiar, like deja vu, like I somehow already knew it to be true...
I don’t know how long I stood staring at the card. Feeling it with my hands, the side with the typewritten text seemed to have some sort of rough flaky stuff glued to the paper, like maybe glitter except not shiny. Or at least if it was shiny my eyes couldn’t distinguish it due to the numbing onslaught of pink. Some of the stuff flaked off onto the floor but I could have cared less. I tried to be careful as I examined the card, because if I held it wrong my hands blocked too much of the color, and if I got it too close to my eyes the pink darkened a shade and wasn’t as pretty. Holding it sideways was almost painful. I tried to maximize the color and get as much into my eye sockets as possible...
After a while, Rob and Cindy and some other kids arrived. The effects of whatever had happened to me seemed to have faded slightly, and I hurridly slid the card back under Janey’s notebook as I heard their approaching voices. My eyes felt suddenly heavy, bored with the remaining visible bland colors.
“Hey Mouse!” someone said. I turned around and saw half of the drama club (as well as Cindy) pour into the tiny hospital room. “Is she okay?”
In the commotion, Janey opened one eye halfway and smiled at me. “Keiko,” she said softly, and closing her eyes again, turned futher onto her side.
I left, knowing the nurse would be along any moment to throw everyone out for making too much noise and interrupting Janey’s sleep. I wondered how they had gotten past the nurses’ station in the first place. The only quiet one was Rob, who seemed strangely out of character in his guilt over what happened. Well, he deserved to feel guilty.
I sat in my car for about fifteen minutes, thinking about what had happened to me (and wondering if my hand was still tingling or if I was only imagining it) before I felt like I was steady enough to drive home.
Janey is the only person who actually calls me Keiko, except for maybe my grandma. All the kids at school call me “Mouse” because my ears are shaped kind of funny. They start out going parallel along my head, but then they curve out away to the side in almost a 90 degree angle, which I guess makes me look like a mouse. (Especially after I’ve been swimming and my hair is stuck to my head.) They’re not big though, and not ugly, so don’t get the wrong impression. I don’t really remember my dad, but I guess I got them from him. Plus I’m short. I’ve had the nickname since grade school.
I’ve gotten used to it by now, but at first I hated it. (My hair is shoulder length, and I usually wear it back, but in a way to partially cover my ears.)
Once in the fifth grade I was doing a class project on Japan, and I was telling everyone what the Japanese characters in my last name meant. When I said that the first one meant “field,” Toby Smith yelled out, “Oh, so technically you’re a field mouse!” and everyone laughed at me, and I cried in front of the class and had to finish the project the next day.
I told my mother after school and she laughed and made me some chocolate pudding. From that day on, “field mouse” has kind of been my nickname at home. It’s funny how things change. For example, I used to hate Toby for teasing me. But now, well, I’m embarassed to say that he grew up to be really cute and I have a small crush on him. Only Janey knows. So if you’re keeping score, she likes Rob and I like Toby. Yes, we’re both pathetic. But I have to say that I am definitely less pathetic and at least I have my crush in check.
Monday was a boring day at school without Janey. I pretty much spent the latter half of the lunch period reading. Hercule Poirot and his little grey cells take the Orient Express. I already saw the movie, but wanted to read the original. I couldn’t get into it, though. I couldn’t shake the memory of what had happened to me in the hospital. Finally I figured Janey might be home, and went to the payphone.
Her mom answered. She said Janey had just gotten back from the hospital. I waited patiently, until I heard Janey’s footsteps approaching the phone. She didn’t seem to be limping.
“Keiko!” Janey screamed.
“Hi! How are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m fine. I can’t believe Rob shot me in the leg with a bow and arrow! It’s like fate exists, or there is some kind of meaning to things, you know? Did he get in trouble? Like, I hope nothing happened to him!”
“No, nothing happened. He got yelled at by Mr. Lopez, that’s all. He really felt bad about what happened.”
“I know,” she said. “I kinda listened to him and Cindy in the hospital, pretending to be asleep and stuff. Then someone played the trumpet and they got thrown out. Wow, I don’t know Keiko, do you think like this is my chance?”
What she meant was, was it her chance to replace Cindy as Rob’s girlfriend? I looked over at the popular seniors’ lunch table, and saw Rob sitting with his arm around Cindy. She was sorting their lunches, giving her dislikes to him and vice versa.
“I don’t know...” I said diplomatically. We talked for a few more minutes, but my mind wasn’t really on the conversation. Now, hearing Janey’s voice, my experience in her hospital room seemed so far away and stupid.
After a few minutes the class bell rang, and we made plans to meet at the mall around seven o’clock to catch up.
Rob came over to my house after school, because he knows my mom loves him and will feed him anything he wants (even the snacks that, if I eat them, will spoil my appetite). Somehow he found out that I was meeting Janey at the mall, and wanted to tag along to apologize to her in person and treat her to ice cream. I really wanted to talk to Janey alone, but she would really be pissed at me if I told him not to come. Decisions, decisions...
We met Janey in the Food Court. She looked the same as always, the only sign of the accident was a little bit of tape on her leg. (She rolled up her slacks to show us.)
“Does it hurt?” Rob asked.
“No, not really. I got eight stitches, so there shouldn’t even be a scar. I hope.”
“Damn, Janey, I am so sorry! I never meant to hit you. I was just playing and—”
“I know, I know.” She squeezed his hand, which seemed to surprise him.
As we ate our ice cream, I thought about how odd it was that we had all turned out this way. Three neighborhood friends, knowing each other since grade school, all grown up and about ready to graduate and go to three different colleges. In a way it made me feel really sad, and nostalgic for the watergun fights and hide-and-go-seek games in neighbors’ yards so long ago. Too bad college was going to separate us. I knew Janey felt the same way, but sometimes I wondered if she worried more about parting with me, or Rob...
Rob had become a popular, strong, handsome—and terminally unserious—young man. But Janey couldn’t compete with girls like Cindy who had great big boobs and a butt that probably had “for cheerleading use only” tattooed onto it. And me, future writer of The Great American (Mystery) Novel, still known to everyone as “the little Japanese girl” except now I was slightly taller and had tiny boobs shaped like the tips of a Nerf football.
I fell slightly behind as we walked through the mall, totally giving Janey every chance to talk to Rob. She’d have done the same thing for me, I’m sure. As I followed them, I started to wonder about the strange gunk inside the hollow arrow. If that stuff had gotten on my skin and made me dizzy and focused all my attention on various shades of pink, as it seemed to have done, what might it have done to Janey after being “injected” inside her leg? Or had it done anything? And what about that mysterious index card? Where had it come from? I couldn’t ask her about this stuff in front of Rob. I wondered if he had plans to meet Cindy tonight.
Just then I interrupted myself.
“Toby,” I whispered.
He was on the other side of the mall looking at some of the silver rings and pendants in the glass case outside of LeatherWorks. It’s funny that when you’re young, the boys from the bad neighborhoods are kind of disgusting and dirty, but when they grow up they become tough and strong and, let’s face it, sexy! Well, the cute ones, anyway. Toby wasn’t the kind of guy who wore a brand new leather jacket and was afraid to get his hands dirty; his jacket was years old, worn, and I could almost smell that masculine, old leather scent from across the mall.
As we passed him, he noticed us, and nodded at me. I waved to him. I’m sure I had the biggest, goofiest grin on my face. But to my surprise I saw he didn’t seem to notice, because he was staring at Janey’s butt! Honestly! (Of course she was walking close to Rob, so Toby could have been staring at his butt—if he was gay that is, which he isn’t, so the point is moot.) That made me a little mad, and actually a little jealous, but isn’t that one of the reasons why I like him, anyway? Because he doesn’t play by the rules? Anyway, I tried to rationalize it. I was hung up on him, what can I say? I thought it must have been my imagination. Damn Janey and her green slacks.
So he went back to looking at the rings and stuff, while I let Janey and Rob get further and further ahead. I kept sneaking peeks back to see what he was doing, until finally he was gone, probably inside LeatherWorks or the CD shop next door. When I turned around to face the way I was walking I stopped an inch short of running into Janey.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
She and Rob were staring into Fleece’s department store. I looked from her to him to her and then Rob shrugged.
Looking into the store, I saw the usual racks of spring clothes. There were a few shoppers in sight but none seemed worth staring at. Was there a sale? I didn’t see any signs. Janey had the weirdest look on her face. Her jaw was slightly slack and to tell you the truth I started to get creeped out. I shuddered involuntarily. Something was definitely wrong.
I stepped between her and Rob and tried to find out what she was looking at. Moving just a few feet changed my area of visibility and immediately it jumped out at me.
That neon pink color.
It was in the young ladies department, a rack of bright pink shirts. They were identical to the color on the index card I saw at the hospital. Fluorescent pink. Janey started walking toward them, and I felt that same fuzziness in my head. Though it was less powerful than I remembered, it was still incredibly strong and I felt obliged to follow Janey, even bumping up against her as we got closer and closer to that color. It was attracting us like moths to a flame. My palm throbbed lightly, not unpleasantly.
“Gotta be a sale,” Rob was saying. He stayed behind; Janey and I ventured forward, soon leaving the mall and entering Fleece’s. “There’s a sale and I don’t see the signs because it’s one of those woman things.”
His voice was receding. “Hey, I’ll catch up with you guys later...”
“Hey sweetie!” That was Cindy’s voice, behind us. I didn’t turn. The closer I got to that color the less important all peripheral sensations became. I could barely hear them as I drank in more and more of the neon pink.
“Where are the wonder twins going, is there a sale?”
“NO! I mean, hell no, baby, they just want to check some prices. C’mon, let’s go back to the Food Court...”
“Do I have a leash around my neck?”
“Right. I think we both know who has the leash...” They faded away.
Janey was breathing heavily as she clutched at the air in front of the shirt.
“What is it?” she mouthed. Finally her hands caught it and pulled it from the hanger. It was way too small for us, it was for a twelve or thirteen year old. “Teen Princess” was stenciled on the front in cursive script, but I was more impressed with the surrounding pink. Janey was too, and my muddled brain finally realized that the gunk inside the arrow had gotten to her, too.
“I need...” she murmurred, bringing the shirt to her face, breathing deeply. It was a painful effort for me to look away from the shirt. Her eyes were shockingly wide, unblinking, and dialated. “So beautiful... teen princess,” she mouthed. “Teen... Princess...”
I felt my own lips moving along with hers, but as soon as I realized it I forced myself to stop. I put my hands over Janey’s eyes and pulled her to the floor. She turned to hug me and I kicked the shirt far away, out of sight. Too bad there were at least six just like it still on the rack. Run, I told myself, run! My hands still blocking her sight, I pulled her by the head to her feet and we stumbled back into the mall. I’m sure we caused quite a scene.
What the fuck was happening to us?
We didn’t have time to compare notes, and besides Janey seemed kind of out of it. Sometimes when she’s got her period she gets like that, too, all quiet and introverted. Doesn’t want to do anything, and so on. I guess she was just scared and wanted to think about things. To tell the truth I was a bit out of it myself. I drove her home and we mumbled plans to pick her car up from the mall after school on Tuesday.
When I woke up on Tuesday morning the sun was shining and the previous evening’s events seemed pretty ridiculous. I wanted to stay in bed, and I remembered how my mother would baby me when I had the flu or something. What would I do on my own at college? I didn’t want to think about it. I stumbled out of bed and started to get ready. Only two more months of school...
It took me forever to get dressed. It was one of those days when nothing seems to match and the outfit I had laid out the day before was just hideous. All plain and boring. Some of that stuff was so cheap I couldn’t believe I had ever worn it. Half my closet was all stuff that went out of style two years ago.
Janey and I met before school and I couldn’t help but giggle. She obviously thought she had a chance with Rob and was going full out. She was wearing a dress and even had extra makeup on!
“Whoa, what’s with you?” she laughed.
“Me? Look at you!”
“What, are you kidding? You look like a...”
“Teen princess,” we both said in unison. I gasped, looking down at my own dress and jewelry.
You know that feeling when your heart starts beating faster, because you’re scared? Everything up until that moment was seemingly harmless, but suddenly I got really frightened, and that feeling of doom came back tenfold. Somehow this morning I had thought nothing of putting on a dress and more makeup than usual; apparently the same thing had happened to Janey.
We had to go somewhere private to speak. There were too many people milling around the main entrance, especially since the buses hadn’t stopped unloading yet. We went inside to look for a place to talk. As Cindy saw us heading up the stairs to the library she cursed.
“Janey, Mouse? Why didn’t anyone tell me it was senior pictures today?”
Once we found an empty table in the corner, I told Janey about what had happened to me at the hospital, how the arrow had been hollow and I had gotten the dark fluid on my hand and what had happened afterwards. I could see her start to fidget.
“Oh thank god!” she said. “So you’re in this too.”
“After I got shot, I mean... at the hospital. I guess it was the arrow that caused it. I saw those flowers, you know, with the little pink ones. I pulled them onto my bed and made a mess. They were so beautiful, it was like I was drunk. Then that glowing pink color, the card. And I just stared at it for, I don’t know, hours.”
“Who brought the flowers?” I asked excitedly.
“I don’t know.”
“Do you remember what happened last night, at the mall?”
“That shirt...” she said. “It’s like that color—bright bright pink—just does something to my head. I couldn’t think straight. I wasn’t thinking.” She paused. “And I... I liked it.” Briefly I wondered if she had been aroused, too.
“You were in a trance,” I said. “The same thing happened to me, but I think it’s effecting you a lot stronger because that stuff in the arrow actually got into your blood. I just got it on my skin, and I washed it off right after.”
“The doctor said my brain waves were strange. He wanted to keep me longer.”
I thought about that for a moment. I was about to say something when she shook her head. “But none of this explains why you decided to wear a dress today.”
I looked at her in amazement. “Don’t you remember what was written on the shirt last night? ‘Teen Princess.’ It’s gotten into our heads.”
“Oh my god!” she gasped, then lowered her voice. “Keiko, I didn’t read it, all I saw was pink. I didn’t see any words at all! But...”
She seemed confused, and I looked at her closely. She was nibbling on her lower lip. I’d almost never seen her do that before.
“I can’t explain it, and I know it doesn’t make any sense, but I am a teen princess. I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life!”
“No you’re not!” I said. “Your father is a network something or other.” But I knew how she felt. Deep down, unless I thought about it clearly, it seemed like I was a “teen princess,” too. And all I had was a stepfather. It was like we were hypnotized, or worse!
“Keiko,” she finally said, “I am a teen princess. I know I am.”
“No you’re not!” I said. “What does that mean, anyway?”
“I don’t know,” she said, tears filling her eyes. “I know I am. I just am!” She got up from the table. “I’ll talk to you later.”
Here’s a lesson for you: If you want to be the object of ridicule at school, wear a dress, hose, and extra makeup and jewelry for no reason. The only good thing to come of it all was that I caught Toby staring at me a few times—but then again everyone was staring at me, so why should he be the exception? I came so close to going home sick that it’s not even funny.
It wasn’t until after school and after walking home that I realized what we were experiencing was a full-fledged mystery. It appeared that my years of reading detective novels were going to come to fruition. I ran the case through my mind so far. Only by occupying my mind with the facts could I remove the dress and wash away the already-smudged makeup and eyeliner. My jeans felt uncomfortable, tight and rough, but I forced myself to keep them on.
According to Janey, she had messed up the flowers trying to “see” as much of their pink color as possible, so she hadn’t seen them yet when I visited. It seemed that the person who had brought the flowers had left the index card with the strange message on it, too, but I couldn’t rule out anything yet. I could recall the card’s message exactly.
I HAVE CAST A SPELL ON YOU.YOU WILL DO ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING I COMMAND.I WILL CONTROL YOU, IN MIND AND BODY.
Who would write such a thing? Who had shot Janey in the first place?
Rob. But it had clearly been an accident, hadn’t it?
I was about to call him when the phone rang. It was Janey. At first I thought she was going to ask me to take her to the mall so she could get her car (which I had completely forgotten about until then). But she didn’t.
“Keiko!” she said, “I got another one! Another note. It was inside my mailbox!”
I hung up and hurried over to her house. She only lives five minutes away. Since her parents work with computers they sometimes aren’t home until five or six o’clock. Like me, she doesn’t have any brothers or sisters. I found her in her bedroom, sitting on the floor with her back against the bed. She was still wearing her dress. Her curtains were closed, like they always were in the evening. There was a weird fat guy across the street who we thought liked to look into her window.
The card was obvious, in the middle of her bedspread. As soon as I looked at it I got that pink tunnel vision thing again, and all else faded from view. I tried to shrug off the fog but it was so hard to concentrate on anything. Pink was definitely now my favorite color, whether I wanted it to be or not.
“I can’t look at it anymore,” Janey said. “I already looked at it for like half an hour. I can’t read it, I can’t think when it’s in front of me. When I see it, it’s like my head goes empty. And I feel funny inside.” She spoke quickly, as if she was excited.
“Keiko...” she said softly. “It... did something to me.”
Ignoring her, I bumped into her bed and realized I was probably close enough to pick the card up. My sense of depth was all screwed up, but I managed to get a hold of it and look at it. There was text on it, just like the previous card. It seemed to be typewritten, like before. Concentrating, I slowly read it aloud.
YOU ARE THE PERFECTSLAVE.IT PLEASES YOU TO OBEY. YOU WILL READ ALL MY NOTESAND NO ONE ELSES.
“Yes, perfect slave,” Janey said. “That’s right. I mean, I wasn’t before but now I am.”
“Don’t you see someone’s playing with your mind?” I asked. “And it’s one word, too. No space between ‘perfect’ and ‘slave.’ I don’t know what that means.”
“Did it come in an envelope or something?” I asked.
“No, it just was inside my mailbox.”
“Okay, we have to find out who put it there. Maybe Rob, because he shot you. Someone who knows you would get the mail before your parents. We need to investigate.” I realized I was talking much slower than normal, and threw the card down. It fluttered out of sight between the bed and the wall, and my head began to clear.
“Oh, if only it was Rob,” she said. “But he doesn’t have to send me magic notes to get me to do what he wants. He only has to dump Cindy.”
“The notes aren’t magical,” I said. “Remember it’s whatever was inside that arrow. That’s another thing to look into. We have to find out what that stuff was, and where it came from. Tomorrow I’ll ask Mr. Lopez. Maybe he has some information about whatever play that bow and arrow set belonged to.”
“I know the school library has books on magic...”
Standing above Janey, looking down at her cleavage pushing out of the front of her frilly white dress, I had a nagging thought in the back of my head, a certain knowledge that this most recent card had effected me, just like the stupid “Teen Princess” T-shirt at the mall had. The more I thought about it, the more certain I was. In the back of my mind, I felt different, but only if I thought about it. I felt like a “slave.” In fact it was a certainty only awaiting confirmation. And if I had been effected, so surely had Janey—only even more so. I decided a simple experiment was in order.
I interrupted her talk about magic. “Go get me a Dr. Pepper,” I ordered.
She jumped up, looked at me oddly for just a second, then ran downstairs. Her stocking-clad feet thump-thumped on the wooden stairs as she hurried to the kitchen. A few seconds later she started back up the steps, and I could tell she was taking two or three at a time, like we had when we were kids. She burst into the room with a can of soda.
“Here,” she gasped, thrusting it into my hands. It was cold, from the refrigerator. It had taken her less than a minute to run to the kitchen and back. I shuddered at the implication.
It was clear that Janey, and perhaps I, had to obey commands given by others. Someone really was trying to enslave us!
“Oh wow!” Janey smiled. “That was so totally amazing! I had to do it. I mean, I had to for real. Good thing we have Dr. Pepper or I would have ran all the way to the convenience store.”
“You always have Dr. Pepper,” I said, trying to concentrate. I felt like it was the beginning of the end. If someone could make Janey, and perhaps me, do whatever he wanted... “Oh my god! We’re screwed. We have to find out what’s going on and stop it. Someone wants to make us- I mean... you, into his slave and... We should go to the police.”
She was still grinning at me.
“Why are you smiling?” I finally blurted out. “This is serious shit, Janey!” I was getting upset, and my heart was really beating like crazy.
“Sorry, I know it is, but it just makes me so happy that I brought you the soda.” Her face brightened even more. “Tell me to do something else! Anything! Anything not dangerous, I mean.”
I stood stiffly in the center of her bedroom. As soon as she had asked me to command her again, I felt an overwhelming need to do just that. I need to give her another order, I thought. I must. But I held back. The words on this new card had imbedded themselves in my mind, too—only not quite as deeply as they had with Janey. I fought to keep silent, but it seemed an eventuality that I had to speak sooner or later, and that when I did I would give her an order. She looked at me.
“Are you okay?”
It took all my will to remain silent. I even squinted, as if that would help my determination somehow. Does it really matter, I thought? Is it worth fighting to hold back against something so trivial? It’s not like she told me to jump off a cliff, I reasoned. I decided to just speak and get it over with.
“Stand on your head!” I said sharply.
She hurried into the corner next to her dresser and, planting her arms and elbows against the carpet, swung herself onto her head. With a soft rustle her dress fell down around her waist. I laughed in spite of myself to see her underwear exposed... and well, because without warning a warm, happy feeling washed over me. I knew instinctively that it was because I had done what she had asked me to. It was kind of like a reward for obeying her.
Part of me was appalled that I liked following her simple order, but how can you stop being happy? You can’t, of course. I forced myself to frown but I still felt good inside.
“You can get down now,” I told Janey. She rolled onto the carpet and I shushed her before she could speak. It was obvious she wanted me to give her another order, and I had to keep my mind on the mystery. Otherwise we would be in real trouble. “Tomorrow, go to the hospital, with me, and we’ll try to find out who left those flowers in your room while I was getting your books. They should have a list of names and maybe someone can give us a description. I had to write my name when I first arrived, so whoever left those flowers did, too.”
“Okay!” she said.
I wore a dress Wednesday, too. I was tired in the morning and I figured I had already embarassed myself enough on Tuesday, I might as well try and dress nicely. Mom kind of teased me, but it didn’t start to seem like a bad idea until I was halfway to school. By then it was too late to turn back. Still, I reasoned, I had a serious investigation to carry out, and I couldn’t be distracted by rough clothes like jeans or even slacks like the brands that the girls with poor families wear. Luckily I had forced myself to only use a minimal amount of makeup, but I did borrow one of my mom’s expensive necklaces.
During my second period study hall, I got a hall pass and walked to the biology lab. Mr. Lopez is the freshman biology teacher, but he also runs the drama club. It was actually the first time for me to see him in the biology room in years, and he looked older than when I had had him for Biology I. He was reading the newspaper like always.
“What can I do for you, Mouse?” he asked. He glanced at my dress. For some stupid reason I felt like curtsying, even though I had never done so in my life.
“I want to ask you some questions about that bow and arrow set from the prop room.”
He sighed. “Oh boy. I wish you kids understood how much flack a teacher takes over things like that. I know you didn’t have anything to do with it, but the superintendant really busted my ass on that one. That’s the last time I skip out and let some senile geezer play babysitter. Did you know we came this close to not having a play this year?” He pinched his thumb and forefinger together.
“Sorry,” I said. “It was an accident.” Probably, I thought.
“Well, it was just the ‘accident’ that the school board needed to finally ‘convince’ me that we should be doing musicals to take advantage of the choir. I guess some parents in the PTA think their kids don’t have a chance to stand out as individuals unless they’re singing solos. I hope you like The Peanuts because this year we’re going to be doing You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”
I groaned. I had been hoping that we would do a better play than that! It was my senior year, for goodness sake! You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown just sounded so... childish. I guess I’d have to read it first, but I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. When someone mentions musicals, I think of West Side Story or Grease. Not Snoopy.
Mr. Lopez clearly felt the same way. “No kidding,” he said.
“Well, maybe it will work out okay,” I said finally. “Anyway, I was just curious. What play was that bow and arrow set from?”
He looked at me suspiciously. “Why do you ask? That thing should have been thrown out years ago. It’s actually Daniels’ fault. He was drama club coach before I came to Washington High. The play is called Season of Cupid and it’s one of those old- Are you okay?”
I guess my sudden intake of breath startled him. Of course, I realized. It’s so obvious. The color pink, the arrows. Cupid!
“Can I see a copy of it?” I asked, perhaps a little too excitedly. I always get giddy and worked up over things at the most inoppurtune times, like making progress on my first real life mystery.
“I suppose. Come with me.” He stood and folded his newspaper over the long-necked faucet of the lab sink. “But there’s no way we can do the play. It’s one of those Old English comedies from the classical period that only parents of club members will pay to see.”
Now I need to explain something that might not be obvious. Do you realize how many commands people actually give you during the course of your daily life? Most of them are rhetorical, but they’re commands nonetheless. The message on the second pink index card Janey had received was making me hyper-aware of these rhetorical instructions. Have a nice day, be careful, don’t forget next weekend’s assignment, etc. As soon as Mr. Lopez asked me to go with him, I was aware that it was a command and I desperately wanted to follow it.
And as before, a small part of me held off, afraid of giving in so easily. But I need to follow him to investigate this play, I tried to rationalize. But there was no time to think about it, because soon he was out of sight in the corridor and I hurried to catch up. Even as the pleasant feeling of compliance rose over me, I wondered if my rational for obeying commands was gaining strength.
We walked to the drama club office and he unlocked one of the filing cabinets. After a few minutes of shuffling through old folders, he pulled out a script that had been mimeographed using one of those old style photocopiers with the purple ink.
“Here it is,” he said. He glanced at some notes on the side. “Props received from Pratt’s Antiques and Collectables. Two woodsman’s outfits. One prince’s outfit. Three damsels’ gowns. One authentic set of Cupid’s bow with quiver. One beggar’s cloak. Six militia outfits. Performed two nights, civic auditorium, May 1965. Disaster.”
“Who wrote it?” I asked. I couldn’t see a byline on the yellowing paper.
“I don’t know,” he sighed. He seemed to be really suspicious of me for some reason. “We don’t have the cover. But I guarantee it’s out of copyright.”
“Do you think I can borrow it?”
“Mouse, I’m not sure...”
I’m a fast reader, but reading some modernized form of Middle English or whatever the play was really taxed me. Back in study hall, I settled down to search for clues, eventually skimming through the play. It was one of those “comedies” in which a bunch of different lovers get lost in the woods and Cupid plays tricks on them. The plot mostly seemed to follow a Prince who couldn’t get away from love-mad women. It was obviously written by a man.
When I hear plays like Season of Cupid are comedies (even though I know our definitions have changed), I always think of those librarians who put horror novels in with the mysteries. So you can’t find a good mystery without tripping over all the gruesome books about monsters and haunted houses. No doubt the horror fans get upset, too. If I ever become a librarian (my dream part-time job) I will properly separate the genres.
I skimmed the play for about ten minutes before I found something that couldn’t possibly be a coincidence:
- Justinia, unto night I shall hie flighte!Rather beneath non sweet trees she sighte.This game hath done, I hope not cometh moreFair Caroline, wist to play at paramour.[He hides.][The tree shakes.]
- What, who arte thou sette hem high aloft so?Do I espie yon frott’d visage of Cupido?
- She spied my hide place anon, parfay,Let twice fortune play at mischief t’day!Handly upon loves string I shall pluck;Unto Justinias breast a shaft be struck.[Justinia is hit.]
- Help! I am pierc’d by lovelonging stronge,Certes I be blind in fever woe begone.Alas! Eros madness at my blood grippes.Though dark, fast I gaze on mouth and lippes!
- Spie she my face in pytche of night betoken?I hope leaste way Justinia hath mispoken!
It wasn’t exactly clear, but after getting shot by Cupid, Justinia seemed to be able to see the Prince’s lips—even though he was hiding in the dark under a tree! Was I crazy, or hadn’t a similar thing happened to me?
As I looked around the study hall, I noticed all the students reading, sleeping, and trying to finish homework due later today. How come the pink of their lips no longer stood out like beacons to me? Or how come Janice Anderson’s sweater wasn’t fogging my brain? A theory began to form in my mind. At the hospital, first I had been attracted to the pink in the flowers. But as soon as I saw Janey’s lips and her bubblegum lipstick, I forgot all about the flowers. And as soon as I saw that neon pink index card, I forgot all about Janey’s lips. Every time I saw a brighter shade of pink, the others became normal again. But how much brighter, pinker, could one go up the spectrum from neon pink?
What if the legend of Cupid was true?
I wondered about the history of dyes. I’m sure the Greeks and Romans had dyes, but probably not pink. Probably just red or purple or whatever they could make with berries. If someone was shot by one of Cupid’s arrows back then, the brightest pink they’d ever see is someone else’s lips, or flowers. Or nipples, or... well I don’t want to be crude. And whatever the case, even if they could read they wouldn’t see any messages written in pink like Janey and I had.
It was pretty clear that neon pink caused us to go into a trance-like state. What if the messages written on the cards were slipping deep into our minds, programming us at the lowest level, when the pink punched through our brains’ defenses? In a way, we were falling in love with ideas.
And the idea was that we become someone’s slaves!