Congratulations to this year's victorious valentine, Sean Fosse!
"Be Mine, ShtoryTime" 2021 Prompts:
Your shtory may be any genre, but must adhere to all three of the following prompts:
1. It must be set on February 14th, 2022
2. A character must say (or write) the words, "Roses are Red, Violets are Blue"
3. A balloon must pop!
Read Sean's winning shtory—plus shtories by first runner-up Ross Denyer and second runner-up Cameron Fong—below!
By Sean Fosse
“Roses are red.”
Whenever Hank smiled he looked like a fish, Marissa thought. She hadn’t realized this until today, fucking Valentine’s day 2022, exactly two whole god damn years into a doomed relationship.
“Violets are blue.”
And why was he reading this trashy v-day poem so slowly? And why did he bring so many balloons? Marissa had better things to do, like listening to a vinyl pressing of a Maroon 5 album or shaving her cat. It was almost apropos. The poem wasn’t going anywhere the relationship wasn’t going anywhere. It all started to make some sort of sad (ironically poetic) sense.
They met on a dating app right at the beginning of quarantine because Marissa was lonely and bored, and then two whole years missionaried their way past her before she realized that anybody is not always better than nobody at all, particularly when that anybody was Hank Vanndersnapp. He was nice, she supposed, but in the way that elevator music was nice. Or the word “lobe.”
“What?” Marissa snapped out of her daze. Looking frantically around the intimate Italian eatery.
“You just said ‘lobe.’”
Marissa was now officially lost.
“Well what?” She said.
“My poem... What do you think?”
Marissa suddenly realized he had finished the poem while she was in outer space. She wished she was actually in outer space.
“Yes! It was great! Thank you!” Just wingin’ it at this point.
“Wait. Yes? Like yes, yes?”
“What?” Marissa started to feel her blood begin to heat, suddenly very aware of how many exits there were in the restaurant. If she had to, with a gun to her head, she knew she wouldn’t have been able to explain why she immediately wanted out of the physical space, out of the city, out of her skin. And then Hank said the very thing that made her choice very clear.
“I just asked you to marry me. And you said yes, I think.”
Marissa just stared into his stupid face. Hank just rambled on.
“Are you serious? I hope you’re serious! I’ve been wanting this for so long! We can have a house, and a dog, and a fish named “Dog,” and matching sedans, and oh, I have so many plans. You won’t have to teach anymore! God knows you deserve better than those kids. We’ll have a Christmas card we send out, where we wear matching sweaters...”
A tea kettle somewhere in the restaurant was beginning to scream with steam.
“...and we can have halloween parties, and easter parties, and independence day parties, and Columbus day parties...”
Marissa blood was boiling.
BANG! A balloon popped! Everyone’s head snapped toward the sound. But nobody’s head snapped toward the soft wet SHUNK, that followed. Nobody’s head but Hank’s.
Hank looked down in horror, his eyes following Marissa’s arm across the table, to her hand, to the steak knife protruding from his chest.
Hank collapsed face first into his spaghetti. Only Hank Vanndersnapp would order plain spaghetti.
A woman screamed in horror, seeing Hank’s brand new corpse. Marissa sighed. “In for a penny in for a pound.” She thought.
Then, Marissa started slashing throats left and right. She stabbed the screaming lady, the maitre d’, the bus boy, she gutted the family of four, she filleted the guy eating alone on Valentines day, yeah, she really went for it.
When she was done, and the place was good and drowned in blood, she flicked a stray hair from her face, grabbed her coat, and went (to a different bar, of course) to get a martini.
Will You Be Mine, Post-Apocalyptic Valentine?
The bomb shelter had a certain charm to it. Multi-color Christmas lights cast a warm glow across the cinder-block walls, while artificial plants, strategically placed to hide lewd graffiti and brownish stains of unknown origin, helped distract from a “concrete coffin” vibe. In the corner of the ten by twenty foot room, hunched over a workbench, a spindly young man named Arnold scribbled on a post-it note, before crumpling it up and lobbing it at a heap of discards. He scowled at a tattered wall calendar, eyes locked on a date circled in red sharpie: February 14th, 2022. That was today, the one year anniversary of two events that had changed his life forever: the day he met Heather, and the day the world ended.
He had been talking to Heather online for a few weeks when he suggested they check out a new sushi place that was opening on Valentine’s Day. She enthusiastically accepted, but when they were finally sitting opposite each other, the chemistry was lacking. Arnold felt stiff and humorless, and Heather overcompensated by filling every pause with random facts about Japanese dolphins. They were bombing hard and they knew it. The irony was, when an actual bomb hit, the date came alive. Arnold had always been at his best in a crisis, and Heather found it woozily romantic how he grabbed her hand and rushed them out of the restaurant to their parking garage and drove them at breakneck speed all the way to the bottom level. Above ground, the world was in chaos, wrapped in fire and blistering with the aftershocks of nuclear fallout, but ten levels down, Arnold and Heather were wrapped up in each other and, as far as they were concerned, fission didn’t hold a candle to the heat they were putting out.
Unfortunately, hot sex and limited emotional compatibility have a short half-life. Their first date was saved by the apocalypse, but after a year of cohabitation, for the sake of survival more than love, their romance was showing signs of radioactive decay.
Arnold had just started scrawling something on a fresh post-it when the bunker door cranked open and a woman in a hazmat suit entered, carrying a large metal tube; this was Heather.
“Look what I found in the rubble at Whole Foods!” she said, as she hung her hazmat in the closet.
Arnold looked up from his scribbles.
“Jesus, Heather! Why are you bringing a bomb in here?!”
Heather rolled her eyes.
“Seriously, Arnold? It’s a helium tank, you hypochondriac.”
She pulled a balloon from her back pocket and inflated a beautiful red heart. This made her smile. Arnold turned back to his scribbling.
“How’s it coming?” she asked.
“Let’s hear it.”
“If you insist…” Arnold cleared his throat, and recited: “Roses are red, violets are blue. Napalm is orange, I’m dead inside.”
“Hmm,” said Heather, as she walked three feet to the kitchen and grabbed some tins from the larder. “You spent all morning on that?”
“Not all morning. I had to shoo mutant raccoons off the solar panels again because someone couldn’t be bothered to incinerate the trash.”
“Guilty as passive-aggressively charged,” said Heather, raising her hands. “I’m sorry, okay. I had to go to Whole Foods at the crack of dawn.”
“You were supposed to get food. Not a helium tank.”
“They didn’t have anything, okay? And I forgot the crossbow, so I couldn’t get any fast food on the way back.”
“So what are we supposed to eat?”
“We’ve got more than enough supplies to last the week.”
“I really didn’t want to eat sardines for Valentine’s Day, but…” Arnold trailed off, and returned to his poem.
“Speaking of sardines, someone’s saltier than usual.”
Arnold offered no retort. Heather softened.
“You don’t have to write a poem if it’s going to make you miserable,” said Heather. “I just thought it would be nice to commemorate the day.”
Arnold dropped the pen and folded his arms. Why did she always make such a big deal out of holidays and “special occasions”? The only thing he had been looking forward to this Valentine’s Day was the possibility of fresh provisions from Whole Foods, but instead, he got a helium tank and a heart balloon.
“Fine,” he said.
Heather glared at him. She hated when he did this. She remembered on their first date -- their only date -- when she’d told him about the documentary on dolphin poaching he just sat there, arms crossed, eyes glazing, like she was the world’s least interesting person.
“I’m sorry, am I boring you?” she finally asked. “No, you’re fine,” he said, arms still folded. It made her so damn angry…
“Totally fine. I’ll just sit here and eat my words.” Arnold balled up a post-it and shoved it in his mouth, chomping spitefully.
“You know what your problem is?” Heather snapped.
“No,” said Arnold, spitting out the pulpy remains. “But I’m sure you’re about to give me one.”
“You’re only happy if there’s a disaster. Why? Because that’s the only time you’re remotely interesting.”
“You live for drama!”
“No, I just live, you love the drama!”
“Oh, I’m so sorry for rescuing you from an atom bomb!”
“You should be! I’d rather get blown up in a nuclear explosion than spend one more day dealing with your pathetic bullshit.”
Before he knew what he was doing, Arnold grabbed the crossbow off its stand, aimed, and fired. Pop! The dart pierced the red heart balloon, obliterating it.
Arnold and Heather stood in shock, watching as shreds of cellophane fluttered to the ground. Heather burst into tears.
Tentatively, Arnold walked toward her. She let him put his arms around her. They held each other in silence for what felt like a long time.
“Roses are red, violets are blue. The world is fucked, but I’m glad I’m with you.” Beneath her tears, Heather cracked a little smile.
“What do you think?” asked Arnold.
“Promising,” she replied.
It Was The Best Day, And The Worst Day
By Carmen Fong
The beginning of sleep feels like the end of an orgasm— sweet release into the darkness. At least, that’s what Jin remembers, anyway, having been an insomniac and single since the pandemic of 2020. He walked into the gift shop and rifled through the Valentine’s Day cards. He picked up one with watercolor flowers splashed across it.
“Roses are red, violets are blue,” he read off the card. “I have no one to give this to,” he mumbled to himself. As he put the card back, a hot knife pain jabbed into his left ankle, popping his sulking thought balloon. He fell on one knee, only to come face to face with a barking, fluffy white dog who seemed very angry about its size and existence in this world.
“Arlington! Stop!” The voice floated above him. Jin looked up to see a woman with dark blonde hair falling in waves around her shoulders.
“Kinsley?” He gulped and pushed himself up. He tried to put weight on his ankle and winced. Kinsley’s brow furrowed briefly in concern, then smoothed back into its weightless countenance. She had on a long beige duster with a red plaid shirt. Today he was thankful he never left the house in sweatpants, just in case he ran into the love of his life again.
“You should get that looked at,” Kinsley said, her voice cold and unapologetic.
“No, I’m fine, I’ll just… head home. Good to see you,” he said, forcing his voice not to betray the sound of his heart breaking. It had been exactly two years since they broke up, on Valentine’s Day, 2020. Jin grabbed the watercolor card and hobbled over to the cash register.
“For your new girlfriend?” Kinsley picked up the angry white dog. She followed him to the counter, curiosity peeking out of her voice. Jin turned to look at her.
“You know it isn’t. I always send a card to my mom,” he took his wallet out and handed the cashier a credit card.
“I don’t know that! Girls are probably banging down your door,” she put the snarling dog into her shoulder bag. It was baring its little teeth and growling at Jin. “Arlington, stop! He must think you’re competition,” Kinsley grinned. Jin dared to look into her beautiful face and instantly regretted it.
“Pretty big name for a little dog, isn’t it?” Jin thanked the cashier and limped out of the store. Seconds later, Kinsley followed him. She caught his arm. He flinched, his heart hoping but not hoping.
“Jin. Will you...meet me tomorrow?”
“Kinsley, is this another one of your tricks? I can’t do that kind of thing again.” He thought of the times when she would call or text around the holidays, asking to meet but never showing up. Kinsley’s face bent into a frown.
“Then… let’s go now,” she said. “Gimme a minute.” She tapped rapidly on her phone. He wavered between staying and running away. Unfortunately, with his aching heel, he probably would not outrun her. Within minutes, one Lyft arrived with a woman there to pick up Kinsley’s dog. A second Lyft arrived to whisk Jin and Kinsley away. He would not, could not say no to Kinsley.
In the car, he finally had the courage to look at his foot. There were small puncture marks through the back of his white sneakers, with little dots of blood in the shape of a dog bite. Kinsley put her hand on his hand as she peered down, too.
“I’m sorry about that. He was trying to protect me,” she whispered. His skin stirred at her touch. He felt his whole body coming alive again after two years.
“From me, though?” Jin asked. “Kinsley, where have you been?” She shushed him with a finger on his lips. He remembered the way her fingers ignited him. The car stopped abruptly. They were at the natural history museum. Their favorite place… the first place they’d kissed. Kinsley took his hand, and they ran inside.
In the hall of North American mammals, they wove wordlessly through the dioramas, constructed so carefully by the curators. It felt just like when they were kids. They held hands as the buffalo roamed and the black bears climbed. The mountain lions deflated, reclined. They went to the darkest part of the displays in the back of the hall. She stopped at the snowy scene of wolves chasing a hare. She placed his hand around her waist and played with his top shirt button. His breathing quickened. He leaned in towards her.
“Do you remember..?” She whispered.
“Of course,” he said. “How could I forget?”
“I want to tell you where I’ve been,” Kinsley murmured.
“It doesn’t matter. Does it?” He could smell the same perfume he used to buy for her birthday. “May I...kiss you?”
She nodded. She pulled Jin’s face towards hers with both hands. He wrapped his arms around her. Their mouths found solace in each other, the sensations both familiar and foreign. Her hair tickled his face. Jin sighed. Other museum-goers heard strange, animal snuffling noises and avoided the back corridor.
Kinsley started laughing. “Remember the first time we made out here? We were in high school…”
Jin raised his head. “On our school trip. Yes. I still feel about you the way I felt about you then. I always will.”
She cupped his face; he kissed her palm. The intensity of the moment softened. She kissed his forehead.
“Jin, I have to go.”
His heart stopped for the hundredth time that day. “Go? Go where?”
“Walk me out.” She straightened his shirt collar. Then she twisted her hair into a loose bun and zipped up her coat. He held onto her hand as the same Lyft, with the same woman and the white dog, pulled up to the museum.
“Jin, I will always love you. I always have,” Kinsley said as she pulled away from him. She got into the car and drove away.