I do not know what came over me. But whatever it was, it had to be incredibly potent.
Count von Muskat was a short, gaunt man. His hawk-nosed face could in theory have been handsome, had they ever been touched by an expression different from an arrogant sneer.
Had looks still somehow proven deceptive, though, the Count's abrasive and distasteful behaviour would have soon made it quite clear that there was only one way to deal with the man: Steering well away from his petulant highness.
To my great consternation, he apparently found me fascinating for some mystifying reason. As I was but a commoner, the blue-blooded Count seemed to assume that I should be humbly grateful for his nerve-wrecking advances. My first instinct was to punch him in the face, and later revisions of the urge only got more and more violent.
I should have removed myself hastily from the site where I first sighted him, and never looked back. But for some reason I could not even begin to comprehend, I was drawn to him like a moth to a flame.
And wherever I went, he seemed to show up with one excuse or another for bumping into me.
He asked me out for a promenade with him. I told him I would rather break a leg.
He offered to buy me jewellery. I told him I would rather sell myself on the street.
He suddenly paused in a conversation, bent my way and tapped his cheek, as if expecting a kiss. I told him I would rather digest battery acid.
He half-jokingly referred to me as his bride-to-be. I told him I would rather burn at the stake as a witch.
This went on for weeks. It was an incredible show of effort for next to no payback, particularly since I could not see what the point of his exercise could be. I was at best plain in terms of looks, I had no monetary fortunes or other power as a prize attached to my hand - in a word, I was a nobody. Even the undivided of attention of someone else was unfamiliar to me. I had been the only child of parents who had more pressing issues to deal with than showing interest their offspring, more an item of furniture to them than a cherished family member. A loner through my life, I had never been as much as half-heartedly courted by anyone before this cocky aristocrat decided to start tormenting me.
If I asked him why he pursued me with such mind-boggling tenacity, he would give me an asinine, cliché response like "I never take no for an answer" or claim it was my sweet demeanour that attracted him, or other blatant lies.
Then things went from frustrating to thoroughly disturbing. I would catch him outside my window as I went to sleep, or find a syrupy letter by him attached to my refridgerator door, despite never inviting him into my apartment. Random personal items of mine went missing, sometimes to return quietly a few days later.
I had to do something.
So, after some deliberation and preparations, I agreed to go on a date with him. I had one condition: that I would pick the location. We got into a cab, and I gave the driver written instructions. While we were on our way, I talked the Count into giving me his phone, under some ridiculous pretence like checking it for messages from his other mistresses.
When the cab arrived in the middle of nowhere, he paid the confused-looking driver and we got off. I had specifically picked the spot so that there was minimal passing traffic, and maximal distance to the nearest house. I told him to wait a second, ran to my car, which I had left here for a quick getaway, and drove past him, waving him goodbye and - I must admit - a generous dose of my middle finger, as unladylike as it was. When I got back to civilization, I tossed his phone into the nearest bin and congratulated myself on having both taught the slimebag a valuable lesson and won myself at least a day of peace while he was working his way back through the wilderness.
You can imagine my surprise when, a mere two hours later, my doorbell rang. It was the Count, asking for his phone back and a continuation of our date in a more pleasant environ. The nerve of some people! He was still impeccably groomed, and the worst of it all, not even slightly subdued.
What would it take to get rid of this man, murder?
I tried a few more strategies on the following week, ranging from ignoring him altogether to not even letting him finish a sentence before shooting him down. Nothing worked, the man was as persistent as barnacles on a trawler.
His courtship strategy, in the meanwhile, was getting ever more aggressive. He was repeatedly violating my personal space, to a degree where I wanted to start shoving him around to reclaim it. He reminded me of my grandmother's small dogs, which would nip at our ankles to keep us in the "herd" and keep running so close to our legs we had to trip on ourselves to keep from kicking them by accident.
Right now, I was quickly nearing a phase where kicking him would by no means be an accident, though.
Then I got dismally unlucky. I was walking through a park, with a copse of elm trees lining the dirt road, when he walked up to me again, as he was wont to do whenever I found myself alone. He had a particularly intense look in his eye as he regarded me. I slowed my steps and looked at him suspiciously.
"Why are you looking at me like that?"
He said nothing, only took a step closer to me. I reflexively took a step back, to which he responded by taking another towards me. I retreated until I saw I had wandered into the copse, and bumped into one of the trees someone had planted as a trap for me some decades earlier.
With nowhere to retreat, I could only stare in abject horror as the Count got closer. His face was getting closer to mine, it was so close I could see the individual hairs in his nose. I dizzily wondered why I should bother to even try to dodge this one. I was so tired of dodging all the time.
He gave me a chaste kiss, like a whisper on my lips. It had an electrifying effect, making me tingle from my toes to the nape of my neck.
I tried not to show how his small victory wrenched my heart inside, but I could not stop my cheeks from flushing pink.
"See? Beats being burned at a stake, eh, honey?" he mocked, and stroked my arm in passing. I looked away and squirmed out from the too tight space between him and the treacherous elm tree.
I fled the scene without looking back. I could feel his mocking smirk at the back of my neck all the way home.
The next day, I was feeling strangely subdued. So when he offered to buy me fresh strawberries for breakfast, I let him.
We sat down on a park bench and ate the fruit in awkward silence.
That is, until he offered to feed them to me from his hand. I peered at him like he had lost his mind, but he would not back off, citing this as something that it would otherwise not be a proper strawberry picnic between "lovers". I simply snorted at the preposterous concept.
When he tried to forcefully push a strawberry in my mouth, however, I snapped. "Stop that!" I hissed, and slapped his hand away.
He held his hand with an exaggerated pout on his face. "Aww, you wound me, sweet cakes. Does that mean we won't move in together before the end of the week, after all?"
I simply rolled my eyes and left in a huff.
I did not sleep well that night. The combination of the last two days had been getting all too intense, while the rest of my life was not providing nearly enough distraction from the mad Count's antics. I found myself thinking about him at five in the morning, sleepless.
I was not surprised to find him at the entrance to my apartment block when I left home the next day. He fell into step next to me, and I just shrugged. I was used to him following me everywhere like a satellite in orbit.
This was to be yet another of those days, though. After we had walked a while in reasonable peace, he edged closer to me and sneaked his hand into mine. I glanced at him, simultaneously feeling slightly ill at the pit of my stomach, and resigned to my fate.
When we came to a crossing where a red light stopped us, I felt I had reached a conclusion and turned to look at him quizzically. "Shouldn't I just give in? I would become boring that way, with no challenge left, right?" Surely he would then leave me alone, at last.
He shook his head, smiling a knowing, not very pleasant smile. "No, once you fall for me, I will just crush your heart under my thumb until you pull away again." He smirked at me. "Besides, the times you've declared your eternal resistance alone are enough to keep me going for quite a while already."
I groaned and waved my free hand in a futile gesture. "Don't you honestly have anything better to do than to harass me?"
"Why? Does it not make you feel special and loved, my dear?" He gave me a baffled look that was so preposterous I almost burst out laughing.
"No! It makes me miserable and frustrated! Why do you keep haunting me?"
"Ah, but it has to be you, sugar plums." He tapped the side of his nose conspiratorially. "After all, I am your creation."
"Say what?" I turned to boggle at him, but he was nowhere in sight.
I could still hear his last words: "A figment of your imagination, dearest. Nothing more, nothing less."
Suddenly I felt horribly lonely.