This is the first dinner party I’ve held in this house. Although I’ve dwelt here for several years, my contact with neighbours, until now, has been minimal. Well, not only am I a foreigner in their country, but I’m a writer, and as an author of stories macabre in the horror genre, I am entitled to a little eccentricity.
Then last year, with the arrival of new neighbours, things changed. Around the same age as me, they also were not of this country. We found we had many things in common, such as tastes in music, art and entertainment. After being invited to many dinner parties they have organised and from whence, I was introduced to many of the neighbours I previously shunned, I realized I had become accepted in the community. Over the past few months, I have received several invitations to visit the homes of these people for a meal. Recently, I have been made to feel uncomfortable that none of them have ever visited my home.
I made all the excuses I could think of, my kitchen skills are non-existent; living alone, the house is a mess; the cats are likely to maul strangers and I will not be held responsible. All my motives were scorned. For this reason, I decided on this little soiree. Not intended as a big celebration I have invited six of those inhabiting homes of closest proximity.
My three black cats have taken exception to the intrusion and decided on their own night out. I suspect there is a feline party in progress in one of the barns adjoining my property.
I am sitting at the head of the table for easier access to the kitchen from where I can serve the food to my guests. To my left and facing the staircase to the upper floor are Michelle and her husband Guillom, and Nicole. The other three guests have their backs to the stairs.
The music is playing at reduced volume through the speakers in the room, a little haunting music from bands like Nox Arcania.. Conversation ebbs and flows as the effect of the wine loosens tongues. I have just served the main course, I thought something traditionally English, a cottage pie made to my own recipe, which includes mushrooms, red wine, sour cream and English cheese. At the first taste, and to my utmost surprise, they all compliment me on my cooking.
As they begin eating, Michelle nudges my arm. “I didn’t know you had a daughter staying here with you. Or is it a granddaughter?”
I am certain there is a look of shock on my face as I reply, “No, there is no one staying here other than me.”
“Well who is that?” She points a finger at the staircase. “There, at the top of the stairs.”
I turn my head in the direction she is pointing.
There in the half light stands a small figure wearing an ankle length nightgown. In one hand she holds a battered teddy bear by its one ear. Her head and shoulders are in deep shadow. She begins to descend the stairs. As the dim light s illuminate her face, I hear the hiss of indrawn breath from the guests on my left.
The grey-white nightgown is torn, splattered with green mildew and stained with rust: or is it blood? Shoulder length dark, almost black hair, lank, tousled, uncombed, frames her face. It glistens in the poor light as if from some slimy film that drips and congeals on the fabric of her dress.
The skin on her hands and face is parchment yellow and drawn so tight over the bones as to make her little more than a walking skeleton, a withered frame almost the colour of a corn husk. Her lips are shrivelled, blackened by death making her mouth little more than a gash through which decaying, broken teeth protrude. A sickly yellow parody of a tongue squirms lizard-like from the lower jaw.
She has the eyes of the dead, large white sightless orbs sunken into the sockets in her skull, but they glow with an eerie pallid light. Green mucous oozes from a hideous slit across her throat.
The stench of something that has lain dead under rotting leaves for far too long invades the room, overpowering the aroma of cooking.
The air is rent by screams from two of the female guests, and I hear chairs scraping and grating across the wooden floor. A male voice growls, “What the fuck?”
There is the clatter of a chair falling and the tinkle of breaking glass and cutlery scattering on the floor. I an unable to move, rooted to my chair as those eyes of the damned stare, burning into mine. She reaches the bottom of the stairs, not walking, but floating several inches above the ground.
As if the heat is being sucked from the room, the temperature falls alarmingly. I am aware of people shouting and running. A door slams and I realize I am left alone with this gruesome, grotesque apparition.
I swallow the lump in my throat that is restricting my breathing and try to speak. After several attempts I manage to croak the words “Monique! Why? Why now?”
The room is silent, but a telepathic voice fills my mind. “You didn’t even invite me. And after all we’ve done together…”
Monique is my muse. A French call-girl—I musn’t call her a whore, she gets upset. She was murdered in spring of 1966 by some insane psychopath. She is/was the owner of a skull I unearthed while digging in the garden, and which now sits in pride of place in a cabinet beside my computer. She frequently appears to me in spectral form, often when I’m not expecting a visitation, and always with the intention of putting the fear of God into me.
© 2012. Robert A. Read.