Greetings, my friend, I had not seen you come in with the other guests. I hope your cocktail is satisfactory. I warned Manuel not to water down the drinks this time. I know he means well; but we should never allow economics to get in the way of a good buzz, now should we? There are other ways to balance the old ledger; and at the end of the day, if the Taxman does not appreciate how I define certain deductions, then I can call upon a dozen or so of the accountants who frequent my parties to lend me an hour or two. After all, I cannot host these dilettantish soirees from behind steel bars; and a cot and a bar of soap hardly serve as party favors.
I must confess that you look a bit tired. Also, the way you keep eyeing your fine coat on the hook over there tells me that you intend to leave soon. Of course, I cannot keep you here any longer than you want. My stories may hook you, but unless you have the willpower of a Stepford Wife you will be able to put the book down and to give your attention to some other pursuit. Still, I beseech you not to leave, not yet anyway, lest you miss out on the main attraction.
You see all the guests around you, the women in their feather boas, the men in their black ties, well, they are readers just like yourself. Most just have stumbled into this party. They may have picked up a dog-eared copy of this book in a flea market, or downloaded this book by mistake when they had intended actually to read a scholarly piece on marriage and feminism. Regardless, they gave little to no thought of actually being here in my living room. They may like the raw oysters and croutons I provide them as hour devours. They may stay for the free drinks. Or they may leave without even an awkward handshake and ‘goodbye.’ Guests can be fickle, especially when there are so many other parties down the street hosted by bigger names, like Stephen King or Peter Straub. My party favors are small and cheap in comparison to what you will find there.
Still, some of the guests intended to be here. Believe it or not, they sought out my home among the millions spread out over many residential streets like this one. Are you among them, or not? Forgive me. I should not have asked you that questions. I am happy you are here, and I should not discriminate between the casual readers and the bona fide fans. Everyone is welcomed here, because you never know what wry comment or cheeky critique may improve how you read this story or how I write the next one. I am the author of this party; but you and the other guests make this party come alive. I would go insane, if I had no one here, but my wife, our dog, and Manuel. Please, do not misunderstand me. I love them all; but what is a performer, if he has his stage, but no one buys a ticket? Yes, he has his craft. He has his dedication to his art form. But with no one to observe, no one to comment, is not the entire exercise finally masturbatory? How well can an artist be alone in his own creativity? Is that not a curse? Is there not a kind of dark and twisted life in loneliness, in rejection, in despair, which over time can inspire the worst nightmares? Yes, it is true that a nightmare can be the wellspring of a good horror story; but it is also true that, absent the distraction of spirited repartee and ribald humor, a nightmare can inspire the fool to show just how foolish he is. It is said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but I would add that the white arrow signs are painted with bad decisions.
Please, stay awhile longer. Rest your feet on my coffee table, if necessary, and enjoy a smoke if you are so inclined. My wife does not allow for smoking indoors; and, as a general rule, my guests can get away with it only in my den when she is far enough from the scent. Nevertheless, I shall not stop you, if you want to light up right here in my living room. Your comfort is my command, well, at least until you are so engrossed in this book that you toss aside any thought of leaving before the final scene. Truth be told, once you start to turn the pages without noticing the time, I hope to make you a bit uncomfortable, maybe frightened, certainly grossed out. After all, my home here is a book among many you will find online, or in bookstores, or beneath the kitty litter in an eccentric old lady’s apartment; but it is also a gateway of sorts into the darker rooms of my imagination. Check out the guests around you. My guess is that after awhile you will see the demented glint in their eyes. They have to be a little disturbed to be here reading the pages I have written. Perhaps, some of them are downright mad…
And, perhaps, you are not all that different from them. Well, forgive me again. I admit that that was a rather presumptuous comment on my part. After all, what do I know about your inner life? I barely have scratched the surface of my own life, let alone the life of anyone else. Indeed, I sometimes think I know the characters that I have put on the page better than I know myself. That is not true, of course. If a character is well written, then she takes on an inner life of her own. Still, I cannot help but to think of them as better understood, or at least more relatable to me, than the guests gurgling my martinis and gorging my raw oysters. No offense. It is just that I do not know you, do not even know myself, as I believe that I know them. Maybe, that is why I write my stories. Maybe, I need to be the author of an entire universe just to find my best friend.
Well, that sounds rather saccharine, even if there is a kernel of truth somewhere in my words. I should have Manuel mix me a drink of my own, so that I stop speaking to you like a teenager in love with his own angst. Cocktails loosen the lips, but for me they also wipe clean the maudlin blues. The result is a much more superficial, but happier, host, which is most fitting since you and the other guests deserve to be regaled by the consummate charmer. We all deserve a good laugh, before the horror comes this night.
That brings me to the ‘main attraction’ I referenced earlier. I presume that you are spellbound right now trying to figure out what that is. I cannot blame you for your curiosity. It brings us back to the times as children when we saw the perfectly wrapped gifts beneath the Christmas Tree and had to guess as to the surprises awaiting us. Does that prolonged curiosity enhance the joy of finally opening the gifts? Perhaps, but that does not make up for the agony of walking by the wrapping and the ribbon each day for a week or two without having liberty to touch. For me, it is like seeing again a woman I loved, but not being able to touch her, so to speak, because she has a ring on her left hand. Does that mean that ‘Christmas Morning’ is when she is widowed or divorced? Not a charitable thought at all, but perhaps more honest.
Anyway, I am digressing. The point is that you probably are wondering what the main attraction is. Well, I am not going to give it all away now. I need for you to squirm in a bit of agony, after all. Otherwise, I should not count myself among horror writers. What I can say is that sometime before the Fat Lady knocks aside the punch bowl, and belts out a soprano swan song even a Gatsby Party could not survive, a kindly, old lady will sit beside you. She will seem innocent enough. They always do. Her eyes will grow big, when you disclose the tawdrier things you’ve done with the other guests. No doubt, she will offer you words of wisdom from a meek and mild sojourner who has seen it all. You will nod politely. Maybe, you will place your hand over hers, and offer her one of the uneaten oysters on your plate. She will shuffle on to another guest, and very soon you will lose her in the crowd.
You may be thinking that that is not much of a ‘main attraction.’ Well, remember that I have left out some important details. The point is that she will seem innocuous, harmless, a minor player in this boisterous soiree. You will forget all about her, when the Fat Lady sings, and you head for your coat on the hook over there.
And then you will walk outside…
Make a beeline for your automobile…
And in a way you will find most unsettling, learn that the meek and the mild in a boisterous soiree indoors can be downright deadly when swooping down from the dark clouds outside. Perhaps, you will hear the swoosh of her broom in flight. Perhaps, you will hear her vicious cackle. Regardless, when you look behind your shoulders, and start to quicken your pace, you will observe the glowing red eyes on a hooded demon. An old witch may cast her curse unawares, even while sharing a few kinds words while seated at a party; but there is little subtlety when she comes to collect what is due to her. Do you deserve that fate? I do not know. Will it matter, though, when she grabs a hold of your fine coat and drags you up to the moon?
Well, I may have said too much already. For now, it is sufficient to say that you should beware the quieter moments in the three stories that follow. Sometimes, when there is nothing to be heard but the soft rustle of snow against the window, or nothing to do but to exchange pleasantries with a kindly, old lady, stop yourself from whatever you are doing then. Ask yourself if in the distance you also hear the cackle of the witch.