Note to reader: This short story is about mental health issues, and creates allegories and metaphors to help explain how difficult these challenges can be. Having struggled myself, I've tried to approach this sensitively, while creating a story that is engaging and interesting to read. If anyone reading this needs mental health support, please seek help - no one is ever alone.
I pace frantically wringing my fingers, my eyes darting to the clock.
They'll be here any moment. I straighten my tie and glance in the large mirror hanging on the wall.
I look feeble, which isn't how a dinner host should appear at all. I clear my throat and pin my shoulders back, my reflection staring back at me listlessly. Black jacket with a bowtie...I look like a penguin.
My eyes dart over to the old door behind me, which has remained locked for longer than I care to remember. The last time I opened it to anyone, I was standing on my tiptoes to reach the doorknob.
Suddenly, there's a knock at the door. I rush over and take a deep breath, plastering a grin on my face before swinging the door open theatrically.
'Good evening! I knew you'd be arriving first!' I beam, hugging the young man who shuffles in with a wry smile on his face. He wears a red jacket and and has donned a black snap-back.
'Oh wouldn't miss this dinner for the world,' he says, speaking in a soft tone.
I stiffen slightly and my smile falters. ' Well, come through to the dining room, e-everything is ready for you.'
As he disappears through the hallway, there's another soft knock on the door. I gesture for the man to carry on through to the dining room and throw the door open again. A frail boy stands there, shivering in the cold.
'Oh! What are you doing out there with no coat on?!' I yell, putting my arm around his shoulder and ushering him inside, 'you'll catch such a terrible cold!'
The frail man smiles weakly. 'I-I didn't know if I was going to be invited, I didn't want to be too much trouble...'
'Nonsense!' I reply, taking him through to the dining room. Plates of food have already been laid out on the table, which seats four people.
I point to the man in the red jacket already sitting there, 'Sorrow, this is Worthlessness.'
Sorrow stands up, removes his snapback cap and smiles, extending a hand. Worthlessness smiles feebly and shakes his hand with a limp grip.
'Right then, just one more person and we can dig right in,' I say, pulling out a chair for Worthlessness, who stands awkwardly at the edge of the table. 'Have a seat mate, it's been way too long.'
I gulp and run a hand through my hair. Was this even a good idea? Well, too late to back out now, fool.
There's another sharp knock on the door and I stride over and swing it open. A young woman stands there in a long black jacket and scarf, her blonde hair swirling around her face as the wind sends it spiralling across her thin white cheek. She has big blue eyes and lips that look like they've been etched onto her face with a needle.
'Depression. You...you made it.' I say flatly.
'You think I wasn't going to come back after last time?' She says in a mock accusatory tone, letting herself in and tossing her scarf at me.
I fold her scarf and follow her through to the dining room, where she's already sat down. I clear my throat and rub my hands together.
'So, thank you all for coming, especially on such short notice. I haven't seen some of you for quite a while, but we all share some pretty memorable moments, I'm sure you'll agree.'
Depression raises an eyebrow, her finger moving slowly across the rim of her glass.
'I'll bring the food straight in, but I understand some of you haven't met. I know it's super corny, but let's just introduce ourselves.'
Depression scoffs gently and slams her hand on the table suddenly. 'I'm Depression, call me Deppy for short. I've known our wonderful host forrrrr...,' her eyes dart to the ceiling as she thinks, 'around 8 years? We were super close a few years ago, but then we lost contact for a long while. I've just recently re-entered his life.'
'Thanks for that Deppy, eloquent as always,' I mutter. 'Worthlessness? How about you?'
Worthlessness takes a deep breath and smiles at everyone. 'Hello everyone...I'm Worthlessness, people call me Wes for short. I've known our dinner host all his life...he hadn't been in contact for a few years, but recently got in touch, and I was so happy to hear from him again. Sorry for rambling on...' he says, looking down to his lap.
'Thanks Wes, good effort.' I say, smiling at him kindly. 'And Sorrow?'
Sorrow stands up theatrically, smiling at everyone with a kind of crazed look in his eyes. 'I'm Sorrow, but you can call me Sor. I've known this guy for a while, but we just recently became properly acquainted, and we've grown very close, indeed.' He says, a sharp glint in his eye. He sits down and stares at Deppy and Wes with a grin.
Tonight, I'm unlocking the door within me, and entertaining my demons.
I nod curtly and walk into the kitchen, fetching various bowls and pots, all full to the brim with food. As I lay the table I hear the 3 guests talking amongst themselves, with Deppy taking the limelight mostly.
'Right, so the starters are self-esteem, which has been garnished with spiralised confidence.'
Wes nibbles away at some self-esteem, whilst Deppy and Sor help themselves with generous portions. I haven't even sat down, but none of my demons seem to mind...they're too busy feasting.
'So turns out,' Sor says, with a mouth full of self-esteem, 'that I have this half-brother called Fury. Crazy son of a gun, but such a laugh. He's the type of guy that you can tell has super-violent thoughts in his head, but he never shows it, know what I mean?' He says, nudging Wes, who smiles weakly.
I realise I'm holding back tears, which is ridiculous. I invited these demons myself, so I can't feel like they're intruding. Or maybe I'm trying not to cry because of what I'm about to serve for the mains.
'Right, onto mains!' I lift the lid on a large dish and inside lays a piece of red meat, about the size of two fists. It beats weakly, almost imperceptibly.
'Oooh what's that then? Outdone yourself tonight you have!' Deppy says, licking her lips.
'Um, that's called LubdubLubdub,' I reply. 'It's fresh.'
Deppy peers over the dish and narrows her eyes. 'Where did you get it?'
My hand absent-mindedly massages my chest. 'Somewhere close by. I'm sure you'll love it. It's been grilled to perfection.'
Deppy helps herself to the entire LubdubLubdub and devours it in her bare hands. Bloody hell, she's really going for it. I clear my throat and place a tissue nearby her, as she's making a mess. But she doesn't seem to mind as she devours the meal with grunts and hisses of satisfaction.
I look away, a tear running down my cheek. I wipe it away and see Wes and Sor sitting there in awe as Deppy finishes off the LubdubLubdub, burping loudly with a big grin on her face. I look to see if there's anything left over and see an indiscernible scrap of flesh left on the table, utterly still.
I lift the lid on another main course and reveal what looks like chunks of steak.
Sor rubs his hands together. 'Now you're talking. Hope, I presume?'
I nod. 'Yep, T-bone of Hope, medium-rare, of course. I was reading up on cooking it, and turns out Hope is actually meant to be quite tough to chew, it's kinda resilient, so you have to be patient...'
Before the words have even left my mouth, Sor has dug into Hope, smiling as he reveals razor sharp teeth. I quietly gasp as I watch his shred the Hope effortlessly, smirking as he does so.
I notice Wes hasn't really eaten anything, but decide not to question it. He prefers to spectate anyway.
I watch Sor finish off the last of Hope, licking his fingers as he sighs loudly. He slaps his thigh and slowly licks his lips. 'Now that, was bleeding delectable.'
'Glad you liked it. For dessert, we have milkshakes.' I say, walking into the kitchen and fetching them from the fridge. They're multi-coloured and all served in tall glasses with fancy straws, with chocolate flakes dipped in for good measure.
Deppy cranes her neck as I place them on the table. 'Strawberry? Vanilla? Oreo?' She asks.
'Um no...they're all flavoured with happy memories. Super tasty, I guarantee you.'
The 3 demons nod and all begin to slurp away at their milkshakes, their eyes widening in delight at the unique flavour. Even Wes is getting into it, choosing to toss the straw aside and just drink it straight from the glass. It slops out from the edges, but he doesn't seem to notice. A splash of milkshake lands on the floor and I gaze at my warped reflection in it, as it bleeds across the floorboards.
Deppy giggles and bites her lip, and suddenly smashes the glass on the floor, shattering it instantly. I jump and stare at her angrily.
'What the hell, Deppy?!'
'I want another one! Get me another one!!'
'There's none left!'
'I want another!'
'You've drunk all my happy memories, there's NOTHING LEFT!' I bellow, clenching my fists. Wes and Sor have finished their milkshakes too and are looking on inquisitively.
'You're a crap host, I'm outta here.' Deppy says, standing up abruptly and flaring her nostrils.
Wes stands up and smiles. 'This was lovely, but I have to go too, it's late and I think I might need to maybe be somewhere...'
Sor smiles wryly. 'Well I guess it's just you and me then, eh?'
I shudder. Not Sorrow, anything but Sorrow.
'Sor you should probably get going too...it's late and I have to clean all this up,' I say, gesturing to the monumental mess they've all made.
All 3 demons shuffle from the table and start to walk upstairs.
'Woah woah, where are you going?' I ask, 'the front door isn't that way...'
They all look at each other conspiratorially and smile. Deppy puts a hand on my shoulder, with Wes and Sor grinning in the background.
'You foolish boy. When you served us pieces of you, you gave us permission to stay, forever.'
I break out in sweat. 'What...no. I was just entertaining you for tonight, you have to leave now...'
'Oh, we will leave, but we'll live in your bed now. Whichever bed you sleep in, we'll all be there, tucked in and waiting for you.'
'You're going to sleep in my bed?!' I say, stepping back, my bowtie now askew and my hair plastered to my forehead from the sweat.
'It'll be one big wonderful sleepover, forever,' Deppy says softly, 'except your sleep will be plagued with us constantly whispering in your ear, crawling all over your face and clinging to you like there's no tomorrow. You're ours now, and we're here to stay...whether you're awake or a-dead.'
I sob and take a deep breath. 'Please, please leave me alone...I don't want any of this.'
Deppy takes Wes and Sor by the hand and leads them upstairs.
'Goodnight, my generous host. See you soon.'