Robin de Voh
there's never enough stories

Nanoprep 2021 Day 1: Halloween Crowd

By Robin de Voh on 2021-10-04

It had been 2 years since their last Halloween party, and though normally they weren't even that into Halloween, it was one of the first 'holidays' they were able to go to a party for. Vaccinated -- though not against the spookiness! -- and ready to mingle, Alim and Esther got out of their car and double-checked each others' costumes.

He was dressed as Aladdin, and Esther, against Alim's many, many requests, as Abu. Something about not wanting to dress up as the token 'sexy girl'. But once the costume had come in he'd agreed it was way funnier and she had been right to choose it.

"Ready to go?" Esther asked him.
"After you, my... monkey?" he said tentatively, awaiting her approval.

She grinned and started towards the front door. The party was being organized by a mutual friend of theirs, Kali, who had always been very strongly in favor of throwing or attending any party that involves dressing up.

Esther knocked and within seconds Kali opened the door. While Esther and Kali made some pleasantries, Alim looked inside. The decorations were amazing, orange, black, dark purple, very Halloween. But there was something odd to it, he thought, as he thought he could see a heat shimmer. Like the effect that a road has when it's been in the hot sun all day? And an almost imperceptible haziness? Maybe it was a fog machine? He wouldn't have been able to explain how it was weird very well, but it definitely looked the part of a Halloween party.

"Alim!" Esther said loudly, nudging him. "You coming in too?"
"Yeah, Alim, but maybe say hi to me first?" Kali said with a cheeky smile.
"Ah, sorry, I got distracted by the decorations, they're amazing."

Kali laughed. "Yeah, they're... Special. Please, come in," she said pleasantly, moving her arm in a welcoming motion. He now noticed that she was dressed as Elvira, a horror B-movie TV host from the early 80s. Not a bad costume at all, his lizard brain thought. The rest of his brain chastised the lizard part, which refused to apologize.

They went inside and Alim got chills. Not in a scary way, necessarily, he thought. Just in a purely physical response. He could see about 25 people in the living room already, laughing, drinking and acting completely party-normal. Some had amazing costumes, however, way beyond what he and Esther were wearing. One that stood out especially was a dude dressed like a demon, and it was -- as far as a costume of a fictional demon could be -- very lifelike. The horns, the red skin, the teeth. Very well-done. And there were a couple others dressed similarly. They probably arrived as a group. Other than that, he recognized a handful of people. He made a mental note to say hi to them later.

"Since we're still technically only supposed to have a certain amount of people, y'know, due to the whole 'rona thing, could you put your name, phone number and signature in the guest book? For contacting you if it turns out one of these assholes brought it with them," Kali said as she pointed to a half-filled page of paper on a little table next to the entrance.
"Ugh, I guess it was too much to ask to really be done with all of that for an evening," Esther said as she picked up the pen and filled it in.
"Just add a +1 for me," Alim said as he was trying to figure out the song that was playing. It was familiar, but not quite. Like, tip of your tongue, but every time he thought he was about to get it, it passed him by again.
"Alim, please also sign," Kali said, smiling at him.
"I don't mind being on the sheet, but I don't see a reason to, if they can reach Esther they reach me."
"Sign the guestbook, Alim," Kali said noticeably less friendly.

He looked at her, and he could see that she was completely serious.

"Alright, alright, whatever the host wants," he said with a feigned smile, trying to loosen the tension. Not a good start of the evening to piss off the host. He jotted down his details and, still a little bit rebellious, signed it with an 'X' instead of his actual signature.

His smile to Kali afterwards was, as a result, far more warm, and she seemed to relax.

"Alright! Obviously there's a sub-party in the kitchen, because that's where the booze is, but in here I've got a friend of mine to DJ all night. Any requests, just ask him. Feel free to take whatever you want to drink from the fridge. There's some snacks on the kitchen table. Come find me if you need anything."

She then waved, smiled wide, and dove into the crowd.

"Wanna go check out the kitchen?" Alim asked.
"Actually, I see Dennis over there. Can you grab me a wine, though, on your way back?"
"Sure," he said as he gave her a kiss on the cheek.
"Kissing monkeys? Tsk, Alim, you disappoint me," she said teasingly.
"I can't help it if the monkey's this pretty," he said over his shoulder as he walked away.

The kitchen was not as full as the living room, but was also smaller, so it actually felt way more crowded. He didn't really recognize many people here, but maybe that was because their costumes were so damn good. He figured that he was still recognizable as Alim -- just Alim dressed as Aladdin -- so anyone he knew would come up to him. The haze was thicker here, and as he made his way to the fridge he could swear he saw a fire from the back yard from the corner of his eye. When he turned to the back window, he saw nothing. Total black. He figured it was just being amongst so many people that had him freaked a little. It had been a long while since he'd been in this big of a crowd.

He opened the fridge, grabbed himself a beer and the white wine bottle for Esther. He then looked around for a glass but couldn't find one, and he hadn't been in Kali's kitchen before. He turned to someone standing in front of the cabinets, and asked what to him seemed to be a 50s cartoon devil person. In a frilly christmas suit? Maybe it was the one from Powerpuff Girls, but his memory of that show was almost as hazy as this kitchen was.

"Hi, hey, sorry, but do you know where the wine glasses are?" he said as he held up the wine bottle.
"Hello," the person said, in a voice too gruff to be female. "I do know," they said as they turned to one of the cabinets.

Alim was quiet, as he also had to admit that that voice seemed weird, out of sync, and also a little too deep to... No, never mind. Crowd stress, probably. The person held out two glasses to Alim, with a smile that showed their incisors very clearly. Truly impeccable work, Alim thought, then realized the two glasses and shook his head.

"I only need one," Alim said, showing his beer.
"Then take one, human," the cartoon devil said, sounding weird again.

Alim coughed, as his previous thought about how deep the voice was fully formed. He cleared his throat and took one glass, smiled, nodded, turned, walked away, and into the living room. He had planned to fill the wine glass in the kitchen and put the bottle back in the fridge, but he'd completely forgotten about that by now.

He walked to Esther, pushed the wine bottle and glass in her hand, and turned to find Kali.

"Alim?" Esther said, looking confused, but he didn't hear. She shrugged and started to open the bottle.

He looked around, and eventually found Kali in the hallway, having a conversation with the odd kitchen devil. When Alim approached, both looked at him, and the devil smiled his incisory smile and turned back towards the kitchen. Kali turned her head sideways a little, and smiled.

"Are you enjoying yourself, Alim?" she asked very sweetly.
"Actually, err," he started, not sure how to actually continue his sentence. "I... I'm not sure I know very many people here? Could you tell me where you know them from?"
"Oh, well, some you definitely know, as we were all at college together, but some are more... Recent friends I've made."
"Are, err, are those the ones with the high quality costumes?"

Kali laughed suddenly, a little too sudden for Alim's taste, after which she composed herself again.

"Yes," she simply said.
"Kali, I'm going to be honest, and I know this might be the social isolation of the past year and a half, but this party feels off somehow," he said, unsure of where he was taking this. His train of thought was still forming, but he trusted his gut instinct here, something was definitely off. "Where'd you even meet this many new people over that time?"

She laughed again.

"Why do you care, Alim? Going out for drinks or coffee, having parties, these aren't the only ways to meet new people, you know. I met them, and I like them, so now they're here."
"Your vagueness isn't really helping here, Kali," he said, now starting to understand that she might not be on his side in this.
"Alim, this is a nice party. There are nice people here, having a nice time. If you're not up for that -- maybe indeed due to it being too crowded for you -- maybe it's best if you go? We could try getting together another time."

Alim started to doubt his gut feelings now. It was true he wasn't too keen on big groups on a regular day, and that had just been made worse by isolation.

"Hm, maybe you've got a point," he said after a short period of consideration. "I think I should probably go, I don't think I'm in the mood for something like this right now."
"That's alright, friend, it happens to the best of us," she said, smiling again, just a little too creepily.

He nodded, gave his beer to her and thanked her for her hospitality, and made his way to Esther. When he walked into the living room, Esther was talking to the kitchen devil.

"Alim! You have to meet Zagan, he is hilarious," she said, waving him over.

Zagan the kitchen devil smiled at him even wider this time, and Alim could see that their teeth weren't actually fake. They connected straight up to what was obviously living -- though very dark red -- gums.

"Fuck," he muttered to himself under his breath. His mind raced. Freaking out won't work, Esther will just think he's insane and not listen to him. She'd stay here and be at risk. He forced himself to take a deep breath and calm down. Once he felt he had his breathing under control, he walked over to Zagan and Esther, and tried to look as miserable as possible.

"I'm not feeling so good, Esther," he said equally miserably. "I think I should probably go home to get some rest..." he added, purposefully trailing off a little, still attempting to seem off.
"Oh no, what's wrong?" Esther said, worried.
"I don't know, but my stomach just hurts so much... Can we go home?"
"Of course," she said, putting her arm around him, leading him towards the front door.
"Thank god she's coming along," Alim thought.

Zagan's smile had only gotten wider as this was going on.

Kali showed up just before they opened the front door.

"Oh my, is Alim not feeling well?" she said, looking worried. An emotion, Alim was sure, was certainly completely earnest.
"He doesn't know what's wrong but I think it's best if we go home."
"Of course!" Kali said emphatically. "We'll be in touch, yes?"
"Of course," Esther said as she quickly gave Kali a hug. "Speak soon."

They went through the front door and stepped out, Alim staggering a little, determined to keep up the act until they were home. He didn't want Esther to have any reason to stay at a party attended by actual demons. He let his head droop and Esther lead him.

"Alim? Where's the car?" she said suddenly.
"What?" he said as he looked up.

It was pitch black. He could see the front yard, but no street. No street lights, cars, or anything, really, beyond the outer border of the yard.

"What?!" he said even louder.

They heard a cough behind them. They turned and saw, in the door opening, that same haze seeping out. Then Kali and Zagan standing there.

"I'm sorry, but you can't actually go home," Kali said, half-laughing.
"What? Why not?" Esther said, now significantly confused.
"Well, you see, to throw the ultimate Halloween party, I've had to... jump through some hoops," Kali said, as she looked at Zagan's insane smile.
"What kind of hoops?" Alim said, fearing it was the answer he expected.
"I made a deal," Kali said, shrugging her shoulders. "No big deal."

Zagan laughed an otherworldly laugh.

"And you made that same deal," he said, that same deep rumble almost imperceptibly out of sync with the movements of his mouth.
"We never made any deal!" Alim shouted, as he stood up straight.

This would have confused Esther if she had any capacity left to be further confused.

"What the hell are you talking about?" Esther said, now with anger in her voice.
"Good choice of words!" Kali said.
"Oh shit, no, Kali," Alim said, hardly hiding his fear.
"Oh shit, yes, Alim, yes," Kali said, her eyes wide.

"It's been a rough time, right? Alim? The social isolation? You guys didn't even reach out to me. Ever. For a year and a half. Neither did most of the assholes in there right now. Then, out of boredom, I figured I'd read up about devils. And turns out I found a book that also taught me how to summon them."

She laughed, but not in joy. Then she turned serious.

"You know who was always there for me when you weren't? Zagan here. He convinced me it was going to be alright. It'd all be better one day, he'd make sure of it. All I needed to do is pay a price of sorts. I thought it was a fair price. So once it was possible again, I made sure to throw a party for everyone who'd never given a shit."

Alim and Esther looked at each other. They couldn't fault her for being angry at them, they really hadn't reached out to her. They had many reasons why not, but they also realized that there were none that were also excuses. Alim considered saying she hadn't reached out to him either, until he remembered that she had. At the start, a few times. But he'd been too busy to respond.

Esther was going through eerily similar thoughts.

"So you made some kind of demon deal, and now you're throwing a party? That seems like a weird deal. Like you're not really using it to its fullest potential."
"Oh, but that's where the beauty comes in, Alim. You're all part of that deal now, too."

She nodded at Zagan, dipped inside and came out holding a piece of paper. She waved it and sighed.

"You should've read the fine print, Alim. You too, Esther. You guys are the price for Zagan's friendship."

They looked at each other, both feeling incredibly dumb and defeated.

"Fuck," they said in unison.