Dinner Guest

I can’t take credit for this story. At least, not for the idea.

When I woke this morning, the memory of a dream was still fresh on my mind. I knew immediately that the dream was meant to be a story. I played with it mentally for a while, trying to figure out what to do with it, before I finally realized it’s a story, yes, but not one I’m meant to write. So I sat down and wrote out a message to a friend, detailing the dream and encouraging her to take the idea and run with it. It felt like the kind of fiction she might enjoy crafting.

She replied a bit later with a story idea for me, and this is that story.

I’m tempted to say something wise-sounding about how if you do something kind for someone (like gift a story idea) the universe will reciprocate, but that’s trite and, honestly, not entirely true. Cosmic justice doesn’t work that way. You could give away story ideas your whole life and never get as lucky as I got today. So instead, I’d just like to say thank you to my friend who was under no obligation or expectation to share anything with me. 

I hope you like the tale. I made it just a bit more twisted, and got crazy ambitious with the point of view, shifting it from one character to the other twice in barely 1,000 words. Please let me know what you think of it in the comments. 

Oh, and happy Friday the 13th. 

dinner guest

He walks into the room shrouded in a cloak of rich aromas. He carries two plates.

“It’s important,” he says as he circles to her left, “that you don’t get attached to me.”

He places the plate on the table before her. She looks up at him, a question mark in her expression. He merely smiles and withdraws, depositing the other plate on the setting opposite his guest. He takes his seat.

“You’ve hardly touched your wine. It’s very good. Please, have some.”

She reaches for the glass, still seeming puzzled, and takes a tentative sip. She’s malleable, that’s for sure. Otherwise she would not be here. He would not have invited her, and she would not have accepted. However, at the moment she’s more curious than scared, and that simply won’t do.

“Attachment can be bad. I’ve researched it,” he continues as he unfurls his napkin. She mimics his behavior, spreading a napkin across her own lap. He realizes, not for the first time, that the entire affair is something like looking in a mirror. A very special mirror that reflects so much more than appearance. In this duplication, he sees himself fully. It’s unfortunate for his guest that he’s quite fond of what he sees.

“Do try the Brussels sprouts,” he says motioning to her plate. She scrunches her nose. He smiles good-naturedly. “They’re roasted and better than you would guess. Indulge me. At least have a bite. Oh, and the roast is rare. I hope that’s okay. I prefer meat with a bit blood.”

She does as suggested, spearing a Brussels sprout and bringing it to her lips. As he watches, she crushes the tiny leaves between porcelain teeth. He believes he can see her breath as she exhales mid-bite. It’s exquisite. She chews, and for perhaps the last time, her trust is rewarded. She smiles.

“See?” he says. “Better than you would guess. Where was I? Oh, yes. You must not get attached. The research. Have you heard of Stockholm Syndrome?”

She nods.

“It’s something like that, but different. Stockholm Syndrome creates a bond forged in trauma. This will be nothing like that, of course.” He smiles reassuringly, and she smiles back. He would not be surprised if he saw a hint of recognition there, but still there is only curiosity. She could take lessons from the cat.

“Let’s try something,” he says. “A dinner game. Put down your fork and rest your hands on your lap. Close your eyes.”

She does as instructed.

“Imagine that you are in a safe place, a place of comfort where you feel completely at ease. Paint a full mental picture of your paradise. Would you be there alone? Or with a companion? Someone who understands you, perhaps. Someone who knows how you think, and understands the complex array of feelings you sift through each day. Someone who always knows how to bring a smile to your face. Make you blush. Wake you into passion, or plunge you into the deepest pain.”

He pauses for a beat.

“Someone like me.”

She opens her eyes, the spell broken by her curiosity. Or indignation. It doesn’t matter. Her eyes narrow as she recalibrates. He knows her better than she thinks, and he can sense the wheels turning. Is she beginning to figure it out?

“Forgive my prattling,” he says. “I get carried away sometimes.”

There it is. Relief. He can see it in her eyes. She was growing wary, but now she thinks she’s silly for getting worked up.

“Please, eat,” he says quietly, motioning toward her plate. “Your food will get cold.”

But he doesn’t pick up his own fork or knife. Neither does he does reach for his glass of wine. Instead, he presses his hands together before himself, as though praying.

She eyes him, the plate, and the fork beside it. He can sense the tension. She’s trying to make the connection. She wills her hand to reach for the utensil, but she doesn’t move. When nothing happens, her eyes jerk back up. There, across the table, they meet with his baby blues, so pale they might as well be the color of the horse death rides.

He nods slowly. “Good,” he says.

Worry begins to fill her. Blood rushes to her cheeks and her eyes burn with the first tears. Suddenly, she’s not sure why she even accepted this invitation. She didn’t expect anything to come of it. She was only trying to be nice. And besides, hadn’t her friends been bugging her to get out more? So he was a little odd. He was handsome enough, and he did ask her out. This was to be a symbolic night. The relaunching of her stalled social life.

“Don’t worry,” he says. His tone is meant to sound calming, barely more than a baritone whisper, but it’s nails on a chalkboard. It’s the screech of a cat in heat. It’s the dull thud of a foot slammed onto brakes that don’t work.

“That’s just the drugs kicking in,” he says with a smile. “A bit in the wine, some more sprinkled on the Brussels sprouts for good measure. The dosage was only high enough to cause a delay in motor function. If you apply yourself enough, you can still lift your hand. It will take all the willpower you have, though, and it won’t be fast.”

She pushes herself, her mind bending under the strain, and her hand lifts from her lap. She’s so elated, she forgets to concentrate and it falls to the table, clamoring against the dishes.

She begins to panic. That’s when she sees him smile, truly smile, for the first time. A Cheshire grin that blooms across the bottom half of his face like blood seeping through a sloppily applied bandage.

He reaches into his pocket and retrieves a pen and a small, black composition notebook. Flipping it open, he makes a quick note. When he’s done, he lays the pen across the open page to hold his place.

“As I said, you shouldn’t get attached. That’s what happened to the last girl.”

She can feel the tears now. Her breaths are shallow and quick. Her heart is beating faster than she’s ever experienced, as though it’s for lack of blood that her limps won’t move.

He shakes his head woefully. “She got attached, and she honestly believed it would save her. I tried to warn her, as I’ve warned you. I’m not the sort of monster who craves sorrow. I hated to see the heartbreak in her eyes, but I blame myself. The dosage was too low, for one. I underestimated her tolerance and it wore off long before I was finished.”

She tries to reach for her purse with her other hand. It’s hanging on the back of her chair. If she can only get her phone or the little key chain with mace. But while her mind is clear, her muscles feel like they’re made out of sand. She needs an explosion of action, and they reply with lazy drifts and only a few grains of movement.

“I told her it was no use, just like I’m telling you. Getting attached won’t save you. You cannot sway me. I’ve been planning this for a while, and I will not be deterred from my goal.”

He pauses, and she wants to scream. What is this dramatic bullshit? Why can’t this bastard just say what he means? Why must he play this sick fucking game? But in the silence of that pause, on the heels of her anger, fear finds her. It washes over her, its bony fingers slipping the ridges of the gray matter in her head. She topples, going from irate to trepid in a matter of seconds.

He leans forward, whispering. “In the end, it will be the same for you. I’m going to kill you, just like that other little bitch.”

She sobs, tears flowing freely from her eyes and snot bubbling from her nose. Her mascara runs, painting her cheeks black. Her shoulders shake, her pupils dart back and forth, her whole frame shudders, but she does not fight or take flight. She just unravels there in the chair before him, her mind coming unhinged as she sees the inevitability of her predicament.

That’s when he feels it. Joy. Pride. Exhilaration.

“It’s okay,” he says. “Isn’t it better this way? Most people have no idea when their end will come. Isn’t it better to know the moment and circumstance of your death, and to know there’s nothing you can do to change it? I would think you could find some peace in that.”

But there is no peace in her eyes. Only fear.

He lifts his glass then, finally, and salutes her before taking a long, slow drink of the crimson liquid, it’s poignant flavor both bitter and delicious.