Day Two: The Return of Mewberty
There were few things Marco Diaz appreciated less than texts from Janna. For starters, he wasn’t even sure how she’d gotten his number, or how her contact information had mysteriously appeared in his phone. And for every text he received, half were bizarre or unnerving, and the other half were bizarre and unnerving. It was for that reason why, when he’d received a text from her shortly before Karate practice, he’d elected to ignore it for the time being. After all, whatever it was, it could wait until he’d kicked Jeremy Birnbaum’s butt.
Unfortunately for Marco, instead of the normal close-up of a spider or a skeleton, the text had ended up being a mere seven words: “COME TO THE MALL, STAR’S IN TROUBLE”
Huffing and wheezing as he pushed his bike up the last hill, Marco kicked himself again for not checking his phone earlier. Granted, it wasn’t unusual for Star to find herself in some sort of trouble-just the previous week, Marco had been forced to step in after a dire misunderstanding at a hot-dog eating contest. But something about Janna’s text had unnerved him more than usual-that, and the distant sound of sirens and helicopters in the distance.
Finally, Marco reached the top of the hill. Pausing to catch his breath, Marco looked down and saw something strange on the ground. Leaning over, he picked it up and stared.
It was, if he wasn’t mistaken, a tiny purple heart.
Looking back up, Marco was floored at the sight of the Echo Creek Mall in the distance. The shopping center was nearly completely covered in bulbous purple growths, and the entire building was surrounded by emergency vehicles. Above the mall, a half-dozen helicopters circled relentlessly, illuminating the structure with their spotlights.
“STAR!” His fatigue forgotten, Marco hopped back onto his bike and raced down the hill as quickly as he dared. Passing by dozens of stopped vehicles and staring pedestrians, he quickly made his way to the bottom of the valley and made his way to the police cordon at full speed. As he approached, however, a pair of police officers ran towards him, hands in the air.
“Hey! What the heck are you doing, kid?” the first officer shouted, running to block Marco’s path.
Marco quickly slid to a stop, and stood before the two clearly panicked officers. “I have to get in there! There’s something wrong with Star, and I-“
“Oh no, you’re not getting another foot closer.” The second officer said. “This entire area is locked down. And kid, even if you did try to get in there… you wouldn’t come out again, if you know what I’m saying.”
Frustrated, Marco gripped the bridge of his nose. “You don’t understand, I have to get in there! Star’s in trouble, and there’s a good chance I’m the only one who can fix this mess.”
Before either of the officers could respond, the conversation was broken up by the roar of a helicopter passing above. Staring up at the sky, Marco saw the black Police helicopter pass by only a hundred feet above.
Seeing the officers staring upwards as well, Marco knew he had his chance. Throwing his bike aside, he quickly ran past the two shocked officers and slipped past the makeshift barricade in front of him. Running as fast as he could, he slipped over and dodged around a half-dozen parked cars, doing everything in his power to dodge his pursuers.
Then, glancing behind him, he saw the cops hadn’t moved an inch towards him. Instead, they remained behind the barricade, shouting desperately for him to come back.
Looking back towards the mall, Marco was suddenly filled with an intense feeling of foreboding. Slowing down, he gradually began to approach the mall. He was close enough now to see that nearly the entire exterior of the building had been covered in layers of small purple hearts, all clumped together to form warped, pulsating growths.
Marco gulped as memories of Star’s “Mewberty” flashed through his mind. That had been bad enough-but this was completely otherworldly.
Stepping through the first door he could find, Marco found himself on the ground level of a now-abandoned JD Quarter. Discarded bags and clothes covered the floor, and dozens of racks of clothes had been knocked over. Long tendrils of hearts covered the walls and ceiling, and tiny purple flecks gently floated through the air, creating a strange purple haze.
Marco gulped, carefully stepping to avoid the discarded merchandise. For all the chaos, not a single person remained to be seen.
Marco wasn’t sure if that was a good thing.
Walking out of the clothing store, he gasped as he entered the mall foyer. Dozens of thick purple tendrils reached across the air, and the haze of floating hearts was even thicker here.
“St… Star?” Marco called out hesitantly.
Suddenly, a harsh whisper came from behind him. “Buddy, what the heck are you doing?”
Marco spun around, his heart racing. Out of nowhere, he spotted a man hiding behind a trash can, desperately trying to stay out of sight. “You keep shouting like that, you’re gonna draw them to us! Get out of here, you nut!”
Throwing up his hands defensively, Marco slowly backed away and began walking deeper into the mall. Constantly glancing back and forth, Marco kept looking and listening for any possible sign of Star-but all he could hear was the echoes of his own feet against the stone floor.
Then, rounding a corner, he found himself staring down the barrel of a gun.
“Wait! Wait! Don’t leave me!”
Marco, who’d been a half-second from sprinting away, risked a look back. The gun had already lowered, and its owner, a battered and bruised SWAT officer leaning against a concrete pillar, gestured rapidly to Marco to come over.
“What the heck happened to you?” Marco asked nervously.
“We dropped in an hour ago… we were gonna rescue the hostages.” The man whispered rapidly. “But then we got ambushed… they came out of the walls…. We didn’t have a chance, man!”
“Wait, did you see a girl?” Marco asked. “Six arms, wings, probably flying around?”
The officer nodded. “Yeah, she hit us as we came in. Got Eddie, think she dragged him over to the food court. We were in pursuit when those… things showed up!”
“Wait…” Marco said, his heart beginning to race, “What do you mean by those things?”
Without warning, a purple web struck the officer in the chest, and immediately snapped back. Before Marco or the officer could respond, the man was pulled around the corner screaming.
Marco turned around as quickly as he could. “StarraaaaaaHHHH!”
Instead of Star, what stood before him was an insectoid amalgamation of thousands of purple hearts. Perched on six spindly legs, the creature rustled as another gust of air flowed through it.
Leaping instinctively, Marco barely dodged a sudden blast of webbing from the creature’s ‘mouth’. Running for dear life, Marco saw another two creatures burst out from adjacent stores, each one hissing their unearthly cry. Rolling to avoid a shot from the one on his left, Marco leapt up and delivered a solid kick to his closest assailant. The blow sailed right through the creature’s abdomen, exploding it in a shower of fluttering hearts. But, to Marco’s increasing horror, the hearts rapidly began reforming, each one fluttering as the creature emanated its horrific, rustling howl.
“OKAY, THAT’S IT.”
Dodging another web attack, Marco ran for the nearest door he could. Swinging past the ruined storefront of a Pointy Picture, Marco spied a fire door and ran through it at full speed. Slamming it shut behind him, his heart leaped in his chest as he felt dual thumps from impacting webs from the other side. But, despite some worrying creaks and groans, the door held.
Creeping down the hallway, Marco tried to reorient himself. He knew he was getting closer to the food court-both from personal experience, and from the fact that the purple haze of hearts was growing thicker by the minute.
Slipping through the back entrance of a SnapEar’s Cow and Cod, Marco gasped as he saw the scene before him. Hundreds of people-men and women-had been tied up and cocooned within the food court, hanging from the walls and ceiling. Nearly every surface was covered in a thick layer of purple hearts, giving the entire space an eerie, organic feeling. It was a scene, Marco reflected, right out of a science-fiction movie.
And, perched on a table in the middle of the room, was Star, in her Mewberty form-all six arms and two gossamer wings of it.
Instinctively, Marco began to stand up to call to her, but then he noticed something was wrong. When Star had gone into Mewberty previously, she’d been two things-utterly silent, and constantly moving. Now, though, she was perched stock still, and, in a shock to Marco, the sound of crying echoed through the room.
And with that, Marco instinctively knew that this time, surviving Mewberty wouldn’t be so easy as waiting it out.
Edging closer as quickly as he dared, Marco slowly made his way into the food court, hiding behind overturned tables and other debris. His mind racing, he looked constantly around the room, trying to find something, anything that could give him an edge.
Then, he spotted it-Star’s cell phone, lying on the floor not ten feet away.
Crawling forward into the open, Marco made his way to the phone as quickly and quietly as he could. Every inch was agonizing-but fortunately, Star didn’t look his way even once. Grabbing the cell phone, Marco immediately rolled back behind a table, allowing himself to finally resume breathing. Flipping the phone over in his hand, he opened it up and stared at the screen.
It was a picture of him.
On a date with Jackie.
“Oh, no.” he breathed.
The crying suddenly stopped. So, for an instant, did Marco’s heartbeat.
Gulping, he stood up and turned around. Without a sound, Star had risen into the air, and her strange, heart-shaped eyes were fixated on Marco. In addition, dozens of heart-creatures had stormed out of vents and from behind debris, each one pointed directly in Marco’s direction.
Dozens of voices rustled at once. “Boooooy-“
Then, Star raised one of her hands, and the chorus ceased instantly.
“Hi… Star.” Marco said, his heart beating loudly in his chest. “It’s, uh, good to see you.”
Star said nothing.
“I, uh, see you’re in Mewberty again! That’s… cool.” Marco faltered.
Star said nothing. Several of the heart-creatures began to inch closer.
Marco closed his eyes, and breathed in deep.
He knew what he had to do.
“Star… I know what this is about.” He said. “I know how you feel, now. And… I’m sorry.”
Star turned her head quizzically.
Marco stepped forward. “You know Star, I spent years and years going after Jackie, a girl I barely knew. A girl that I saw more as an ideal than a person.”
He took another step. “And you were right there beside me, Star. You never stopped pushing me to go out there, to step forward and tell her how I felt. But that whole time… I never stopped to think about how you felt.”
He continued walking forward, until he was a mere foot away from Star. “You’re the coolest person I know, Star. You’re the best friend a guy could have. And…”
Star slowly floated down to the ground, her eyes utterly transfixed on the man in front of her.
Marco took her hand, and smiled. “I love you, Star Butterfly.”
And, without hesitation, he leaned in and kissed her.
The entire room exploded in a flurry of wind and purple hearts. As the wind howled around the two, Marco broke the kiss, and held Star in a tight embrace.
And, a second later, he felt two arms around him as well.
Looking up, he saw a stream of purple hearts flicking off Star, revealing her normal self behind them. All around them, the heart-creatures dissolved into nothing, and from the remains of the cocoons a crowd of people slowly emerged, dazed and confused but none the worse for wear.
Star looked up at Marco, her eyes full of tears. “I wanted to tell you for so long, but I tried to bottle it up inside, and… I just couldn’t handle it.”
“It’s not your fault, Star.” Marco replied. “I should’ve known. And I would’ve known, if I hadn’t been so wrapped up in everything else.”
“You can say that again.” Janna said, emerging from the nearest cocoon. “At least you got here before the army showed up.”
Marco glanced nervously in the direction of a staggering SWAT officer. “Uh, yeah! By the way, we should definitely get out of here, right now.”
Together, the three quickly made their way out of the food court, heading straight out of the mall. As they entered the parking lot, dozens of people were running across the parking lot, embracing loved ones and breaking down in tears.
Janna whistled as she watched a news helicopter fly past. “Man, you really did a number on this place, Star.”
Star blushed. “Yeah, well, at least it’s not as bad as when my mom went through Mewberty. Dad said he was trapped in the castle for a week!”
Finally, the trio reached the edge of the parking lot. Janna sighed, and stretched. “Well, it’s been fun, but I’ve gotta get home. Seeya tomorrow, Star.”
Together, Marco and Star watched Janna walk away. A second later, Marco realized that the two were still holding hands.
He blushed. “So, uh, how do you want to get home?”
Star grinned. “Oh, I have an idea.”
Letting go of Marco’s hand, she stepped back, closed her eyes, and breathed in deeply. Her cheeks glowed a brilliant white, and before Marco’s eyes a pair of fully-formed Mewberty wings emerged from Star’s back.
Opening her eyes, Star looked back and squeeled happily at the sight. Jumping up and down, she turned to Marco. “Ooooooh I did it! I did it!” Before Marco could react, she grabbed his hand and pulled him tight. “Now, let’s fly!”
And, leaping into the air, the two soared off into the sky, disappearing into the setting sun.
(submitted by aceb133)