by Sharon Diane KingIt’s a hostess’ worst nightmare: What wine to serve at your last supper?
We were a sad assembly of refugees for New Year’s Eve. My home: triple-padlocked and alarm-secured. The neighborhood: razor-wired and electro-gated. But we knew we couldn’t stay inside these safe confines forever. Our microgreens were running low.
Still, a nod to holiday traditions tended to lift the spirits. Especially for those lifting spirits.
My gilt-edged china and crisp white linens were festive, but the folks seated around the dining room table were the real eye-catchers. We’d found that creature costumes temporarily confused our relentless pursuers. After all, they had no vested interest in T-Rexes or giant bumblebees. Only humans could give them what they wanted. Craved. Sought after with every fiber of their fixated beings.
So hiding out via cosplay worked, for a while. After that, the outfits sort of became second nature.
“She caught me just as I was leaving work,” the Easter Bunny explained to his neighbor, a bright green-and-orange day gecko, as he set down the blood-stained basket of eggs he’d been clutching. Bun gingerly patted his leg with its makeshift bandage and forked up a bite of glazed ham. “I made it to the car, but she slammed the door on my foot. Guess it serves me right,” he choked, wiping his eye with a dirty furry paw.
“You don’t mean that,” Merribel the Hello Meerkitty said, unsheathing her napkin from its crystal-studded ring and settling it over her fishnet stockings. Her claw-pads grappled with the silver server for the chicken chaud-froid. “You deserve better.”
“Course you do,” grumped my boss Hank from the head of the table. He was impressively attired as the Thanksgiving gobbler, though he was missing a few tailfeathers. After he cut off all contact with his ex-fiancée, she spotted him exiting his office building—she came by there every day—and figured out there just might be something a-lurky in that turkey. “You don’t owe her your life, after all. Pass the cranberry sauce.”
“Cran-kumquat relish, actually,” I blushed.
I’d ended up as Donner the Reindeer. Somebody had already rented Rudolph. My nose kept getting in the way of my glass of viognier, and my rubber antlers occasionally scraped up against the gaslight chandelier, setting it swinging.
From outside it must have looked like we were having a lot more fun than we really were.
It was like a lady-drunk AA meeting. As the wine flowed, we swapped stories of the head-over-heels first days. The sudden change, usually overnight. Then the horrified realization, the fits of screaming, the hairbreadth escapes. The constant moving from place to place as they tracked us down. We’d all been there.
That was why we were here.
Over chia-seed rolls and white-truffled sweet potatoes, I got acquainted with the gecko guy next to me. Merribel had met him hiding out in a downtown basement the week before. A quiet accountant, he was still pretty traumatized by his partner Joe’s horrifying transformation.
“I never saw it coming,” he muttered bitterly, staring into his frisee-and-goat-cheese salad.
“It’s okay,” I told him, tipping a smidge more wine into his glass. “Nobody ever does.”
Have to say, though, I liked his style. Seemed Joe had always been creeped out by reptiles. Say hi to Gorton Gecko, Joe!
It grew late. I’d just brought the Baked Alaska to the table—to great acclaim—when we heard the door buzzer. We froze.
My ex. Had to be. He’d found my new country abode, had somehow found a way through the double gates. He knew all my passwords, the jerk.
And he was here to get his supply. From me.
We blew out the candles and crouched beneath the table. Silence wasn’t just golden at that moment; it was pure platinum. We even heard the meringue fall. The ringing went on, alternating with a furious pounding at the door.
We were trapped.
I glanced around at the downcast masks. Oh, the suits might confuse my ex initially but wouldn’t hold him off for long; he’d know I was in there somewhere. We could try ganging up and subduing him, of course. Hell of a way to end the year. And if he managed to get away….
But I’d thought ahead. Reaching inside my suit, I grabbed my cell and clumsily pressed a key. We heard his ringtone–the chorus of “Re:Your Brains”–loud and clear. He’d always loved that song.
I’d rigged a call–from a spoofed number, duh–promising I’d meet him in a little gazebo in the public park on New Year’s Day. I have to see you, don’t care what happens…. I knew he’d jump at the bait, even though I’d played this hand before: Got trapped at work. Give me another chance. You are SO important… irreplaceable…can’t live without you….
And he’d waited there for hours. Yup. That predictable.
We heard a gurgle from the front porch, then a pause, then footsteps fading away. We started breathing again. We’d have time to clear out in the morning, find another hideout for a few days, maybe a week. Before the hordes tracked us down again.
We never resumed our places at table that night. We just relit a candle and lounged underneath, leaning against the table legs. Gobbles poured us a round of champagne. Somebody started humming “Auld Lang Syne”, and we all broke into whispered song, misty-eyed, as the clock ticked its way into the new year.
All at once I found myself weeping. I stood up unsteadily, nearly upsetting the hazelnut petit fours on the sideboard.
“Damn him,” I sniffled, grabbing a napkin and dabbing at my eyes through the costume’s eyeholes. “It never ends. He just won’t let go.”
“They can’t help it,” murmured the Easter Bun, patting my shoulder. “It’s their nature.”
“Narcissists,” Merribel nodded sadly. “They don’t take partners—”
“—they take prisoners,” I rejoined in a small voice. “I know.”
“You’ll get through it,” the gecko said. “We all will. We have to believe.”
And in the grey light of the year’s first dawn, we bravely stood up, cleared the table, put away the leftovers, and started up the dishwasher.
Sharon Diane King (Ph.D., Comparative Literature, UCLA) works as an actor for film and television. Publications include an essay in the critical anthology Of Bread, Blood and The Hunger Games (McFarland, 2012), a science fiction tale, “Follow The Music,” in the anthology Desolation: 21 Tales for Tails (Dragon’s Roost Press, 2014), and a fantasy story “Read Shift” in the autumn 2014 issue of the e-zine Kaleidotrope. Her theatrical troupe Les Enfans Sans Abri has for decades been performing short medieval and Renaissance comedies, including an original play, “A Knight To Remember,” for the Getty Family Festival (September 2014).