A Bad Place Full Of Bad Jerks
A Bad Place Full Of Bad Jerks
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Not a Ghost Story

Illustration for article titled Not a Ghost Story

The party is in full swing by the time you arrive, late and already half-drunk. It's a costume thing, and you feel a flash of irritation that you didn't have time to plan an outfit. That's okay; it's cold outside, you can just pull the ear flaps down on your hat and tell everyone you're a modern eskimo. You pull out your phone, just shy of midnight. Your friends should be here by now—you'd separated earlier in the evening, planning to meet up before going home, but no one's texted you yet. Not that that's uncommon, it's easy to forget when you're having a good time.


You wander through the house, searching for a familiar face or a glimpse of the sequined dresses your friends are wearing. Your cursory search yields no results, so you head down to the kitchen. A drink and a smoke will be good until someone shows up.

The kitchen doesn't disappoint. It's full of people chatting, drinking, and one couple pressed up against the refrigerator completely lost in each other. You ignore the couple, integrate yourself into the group surrounding the island. One guy acts as de-facto bartender, brandishing a bottle of tequila in front of him like a sword, and you think, honor before reason and liquor over all.


Someone passes you a cup, which you accept despite your better judgement, and when you take a sip the tang of cheap tequila burns its way down your throat in a way that's too nasty to ignore but too good to put down. You're not familiar with the drink, a fruity base you can't identify overlaid with something that you think might be nutmeg, but might also be honey, but that doesn't make sense because you saw the guy make your drink, it was Cuervo and Coke, and you really, really hope you're not about to pass out and wake up in the back of someone's cargo van.

You take another sip, a gulp, really, but who's keeping track, you're certainly not. A hand closes around your wrist and you startle, somehow managing to not spill everywhere. You stare at the hand; it's lovely, all long narrow clever fingers and just the hint of blue veins running beside tendons beneath almost too-pale skin. You follow the hand up an arm to a shoulder, neck, a long-nosed Venetian mask, and you wish that everyone wasn't in costume, because you'd bet his face is as pretty as his hands.


You need to stop drinking.

The man tugs you close, leans down to murmur, my my, what have we got here? in a smoky baritone that does not have you going a little bit weak at the knees. You do not blush, and when you meet his eyes and say, Oh, no one, just a little girl lost, don't you know, you're proud of how your voice doesn't shake.


The man laughs, eyes narrowing with mirth beneath his mask, and he says, Well aren't you brave, you pretty little thing. He pauses, brings his free hand to tap at his cheek in a mockery of thought. Brave, or stupid, my little mayfly?

You should extract your hand from his grip, turn around and walk away, leave the party, to hell with your friends. You should not be here. You have stumbled onto something you don't know and don't understand, and you really, really, really should not be here.


But you're a little brave, and apparently a lot stupid and maybe a teensy bit more drunk than you estimated, so you smirk up at him and say, Wouldn't you like to know, like it's the cleverest thing you've ever said to anyone.

The man changes his grasp so that one long forefinger rests against your pulsepoint. Not a mayfly, then, he says, but maybe a horsefly? Or, no. A dragonfly. A honeybee. An entirely new species or both.


He's looking into your eyes, grey gaze vaguely unsettling and more than a little hypnotic, a cobra staring down a mouse before he strikes. Nothing about this makes sense, but you're nothing if not adaptable.

Or maybe just a wasp, you snap.

Or maybe just a wasp, he repeats. His finger taps out a little tattoo on your wrist, rat-a-tat-tat, a rat in a trap, and then he says, It's a bit crowded in here, don't you think? and suddenly you will absolutely die if you don't have a smoke right this instant.


He seems to read your mind, materializing a pack of cigarettes from out of nowhere and gesturing vaguely to a set of French doors you hadn't noticed earlier. You nod and he leads you outside onto a large patio that's been cleared of the snow that blankets the rest of the world.

The patio is warmer than it should be, courtesy of the alcohol, and something buzzes at the base of your skull that may or may not be tequila-induced. The man still hasn't let you go, but he somehow manages to tap out a cigarette, stick one between your lips and one between his own, and light both. It's a neat trick, you tell him, and then you ask where he got the third hand from.


Wouldn't you like to know, he replies, taking a deep drag and exhaling sharply. Smoke curls around you both in interesting patterns, stark against the dark of night and emphasized by the cold.

You smoke in silence for a while, quiet and easy, and the stars are brighter than usual, and you think you can feel their song against your skin. Something is different here, in the snow under the stars, with this man who has two hands and then has four, who latched on and hasn't yet let go, who laughs and who is currently looking at you like you're a puzzle to be solved, or maybe the equation that could destroy everything if only properly applied.


You finish your cigarette with a contented sigh, letting the butt drop to the ground. You're drunk and at a party and can't be assed to properly dispose of your refuse at the moment, and you don't think the nameless man in the mask would let you go even if you wanted to.

Why me? you ask

Why anyone? he retorts, making a vague wide gesture that encompasses everything and nothing all at once. The stars glint off of the snow and you think you might be blinded.

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