By Matthew Ainley
TW: Violence, blood
Here the twelve came now, in their rows of twos and threes, gossiping and drinking and stumbling their way down the front driveway. Swallowed by the night and lost in their own quantity, they resembled bottles of milk being delivered at the crack of dawn. A few crammed shreds of sliced bread into their mouths, most aided by a friend acting as a crutch. Others, less inebriated, clung to bright red cups in which liquid sloshed around unsupervised. The sickly, erosive smell floated towards where I was standing, and I gulped. As the voices of the horde echoed across the drums of my ears, a rush of insatiable excitement shot through my neck into my mouth, my teeth. It was almost time!
One by one I welcomed the guests, forcefully administering the sincerity and homeliness I was known to lack into brief conversation. Those at the front of the crowd spewed words fast and dramatically, hungry to make their way inside where the food and drink awaited, some dropping their plastic cups onto my front garden. The bread eaters wavered unknowingly, and their crutches were thankful, relieved at the opportunity to rest. They all ate up my demeanour, smiling back big and eager smiles, and entered my manor, all searching for the party which I had promised. Once the stragglers were inside, I bolted the door from the wind and lights and ushered my esteemed guests into a grand drawing room.
They gasped and gawked at the interior designing like seagulls on a beach. The dark, glossy wooden panelled floor shone their stupidity back up at them. A group rushed to inspect my family portraits that adorned the walls in antique, golden frames. Their filthy fingers pawed away at my relatives, and I could hear their chatter:
“His family has been here since the 13th century! I wouldn’t leave either if this was my house.”
“Ew the paintings are kinda creepy. I swear the eyes are following me!”
“Look at that one. His mum looks like a horse!”
“Where’s the food? He promised food on the invitation. And drinks! Rich guy like this must have some wine somewhere!”
I was getting bored. The people I had been speaking to had gone off to peer at the other side of the room which housed various Gothic paintings, but I could hear them spewing their judgement on me as soon as they’d stopped by the wall. In fact, most of my guests were currently berating me or my family or my house in some way. I could hear it in their voices, the way some shot glances and other’s eyes steeled. Drunkards were loud, careless about who heard, and those quiet pricked their ears and the knives sharpened in their minds.
My guests were a poor man’s Disciples. They were greedy, arrogant, inconsiderate, and deceitful. They took with no mind to stop themselves. Who knew how many people they had taken from before, who they could take from again? They were toxins in the water tank and the dust coating the floorboards – I felt no guilt about the performance that awaited them.
In from the side door skulked a butler and servants drooped in black. Their hands held large, gleaming plates that shone in the dimly lit hall. I ushered my guests forward to a stately mahogany banqueting-table laid with a rich crimson tablecloth and silverware so heavy they fell like paperweights. Prompted, I beckoned the others to sit – six to my left and six to my right. Their incessant fidgeting and ravenous eyes betrayed their restraint. Noise accumulated like rain in a cup. I hit my spoon against the wine glass in front of me and the murmurs died. Eyes turned. I rose.
“I welcome you, my esteemed guests, to my table tonight. Shortly there will be food and there will be merriment, but first I would like to say a few words. I have invited you all here to my home to share in the festivities of Halloween. The joys of Halloween can rarely and never joyously be spent alone. I felt tonight I was hungry for an evening of spectacle, excitement, and wicked games, and you have so wonderfully graced my hall. Yes, yes, you may ask why I invited you when I hardly know you and have seen you but only in passing. You see, that was the first game I played with myself. Don’t be confused, I will explain. I have had the opinion of late that humanity has become sour and unfruitful. People have become immoral and selfish and gluttonous, nowadays seeking money and food without rational thought and care. Since a child, I have watched the gradual deterioration of this species passively and have abhorred the sights I have seen. The thieving, the trickery, the manipulation, the violence, the disrespect and dishonour so present now inside each of your veins it suffers me to think. Yet no justice has been served and your sins remain unpunished. That cannot be so – put down that fork, I’m afraid you won’t be using it tonight. You, my lost lambs, will be absolved of your sins. There is no need to worry, me and my family will be gentle with you.”
The portraits animated with sudden ripping brutality as my ancestors’ bodies contorted against the grain to come alive. Temporarily screams curdled the air around the table, a feeble gasp at a Requiem. With darting shadows and splintering wood, bloody purification was enforced. Seconds later, sound lay dead still. Underneath the table, wine mixed with blood and hands outstretched for bread that they would never reach. Blood-soaked floorboards scented the air metallic; it spiralled upwards and upwards through the raised ceiling and into the darkness.
In the passageway, the grandfather clocked chimed twelve times.
Illustration by Anna Pycock