Tales from a Dinner Party

Submitted into Contest #64 in response to: Write a ghost story where there’s more going on than it first appears.... view prompt

6 comments

Horror

The sturdy door of the old library slides open and standing a metre inside is my silvery eyed boss. Her long hair sways in the aggressive breeze, and her porcelain skin, like fluorescent light, glows. Hidden inside her tailored suit is her curvy body. A figure of eight hugging her bones. Her face reflects her personality, a tattooed snarl pulling her lips upwards and her menacing eyes observing your every move. If you don’t meet deadlines, she will never scream, but she will, with those very eyes, insult you. Sometimes I pinch myself, I am still in a job. I have not left in tears and she has not fired me for an innocent mistake. There are also times I look at her and see a mirror. A mirror displaying the person I am terrified I will become.

      She ushers me into the old library - her new home, and my mouth drops open. Impressive artwork of the Yorkshire dales hangs proudly on the walls and in keeping with its history, books with musky aromas are piled neatly together in towering shelves reaching the dome-shaped ceiling.

      The Georgian windows are the most striking feature. In the daytime this place will be filled with natural light, but on this stormy evening the windows are thick with shadows, reminding me we are in an isolated land.

       My boss leads me through the hallway, further into the depths of her house. The shiny wooden floors on the elongated corridor react to my heels with a creak, and ajar doors observe me from either side of the passageway.  

      At the far end of the corridor, a room bursting with voices and artificial light sends a wave of relief down my body. This is not a setup; my boss has invited me to a genuine dinner party.

       “Hey Gem.” Martin, the only colleague I call a ‘friend,’ emerges from the handful of guests. “This place is amazing; she must have so much money.”

      I catch my boss inspecting Martin and I’s conversation and as much as I would like to reply; I offer him only a nod.

“If we could all take our seats, the food is ready.” An older gentleman dressed in a white shirt and black-tie escorts us towards a formally decorated table. Martin offers me a quick glance. His grin reaches his ears, and he hops into his chair.

I am less excited about the dinner party and more on the cautious side. We still are unsure of why we are here. Team bonding has never been a priority for my boss and dragging us to her rural home in the depths of winter has unease slithering down my spine.

             The older gentleman serves us our starter - smoked cheddar stuffed in peppers and without conversation the dinner party of seven munch away. The flavours ooze through my palate, igniting my taste buds, and for a moment I relax. But only for a moment.

             I think his name is John. He is a bald man who manages the accounts department. “Renee,” He gasps. “This building is fantastic. It has a bit of an eerie feel. Don’t you think? There is something spooky about this place.”                  

 I agree, there is something unnerving about this building, but it’s the location that sends tingles through my body. An old library in the middle of nowhere built at a time before motor vehicles and decent roads makes little sense. Who would travel to such lengths to read books, and why

                 “Do you believe in all that?” My boss retorts John's observation.  

                “Yes. I had an experience of that kind.”

                Renee’s leans into the table, her hand stroking the stem on her champagne flute. “Tell us about.” She smirks.

               John gulps his drink, clearing his throat as the glass lands back on the table. “When I was a child, we used to visit my Aunt’s house during the holidays. She lived in a rural house like this one. I remember playing outside when a boy appeared from behind a tree. He told me his name was Billy. I could not understand most of what he was saying. And his clothes were from a different time. Raggedy old things.  

              “I told my parents about him. They were concerned, there were no houses for miles around. They contacted the nearest neighbours and there was no boy named Billy. I believe I played with a ghost.”

               My boss inspects John's face. She narrows of her silvery eyes and purses her mouth.

               “I have seen a ghost too.” Martin blurts out. “When I was little, one of my neighbours died. After his death I cycled past his house and he was in his armchair.”

             “And I believe my cat is still around in spirit. I smell her all the time” An older lady with curly hair joins the quest to persuade my boss paranormal forces are walking this planet.

             The dinner takes an unexpected turn. Conversation splits into groups, and with raised voices guests' chatter to their neighbours about their own unexplained experiences. Martin turns to me, giving me an in-depth account of the ghost he saw as a child. I try to remain focused on his animated face, but words of poltergeists and dead relatives distract me. I shift my attention away from him, only to be blocked by Renee’s piercing glare.

             “I have a story for you.” My boss only needs to whisper for us all to listen. She is the one in charge and discussion ends as all guests turn their heads towards her.

              “I don’t believe in ghosts, but when I was renovating this place, I stumbled on something. I wanted the job done correctly and was here as much as possible. We were knocking down a wall on the second floor and found some hidden rooms. Inside the rooms were children’s books and…… bones. I reported this to the authorities and after forensics examined the rooms, they discovered the bones were from not one child…. but many.

               “A historian was assigned to the case. He informed me this library was a secret library. Factually the historian could prove it was built as a country house in the beginning of 1800s, but at the end of the century its original owners came into financial difficulty and sold it to a wealthy family. What the historian cannot prove, but what local legend says is the youngest son from this family was born with hideous facial abnormalities. He was gifted this house in exchange he would live as an outcast from society so he would never bring shame on his relatives. He loved to read and from a young child collected books.

            “Word got around that an isolated house in the Yorkshire dales stored the most incredible books and people started to visit. This is when it became a library.

              “At the same time, children from nearby villages were reported missing. It was believed many of them visited this house. They couldn’t read, but they were promised if they came to this building, telling nobody where they were going, they would hear the most wonderful stories.

             “When I examined the rooms in more detail, I found scratch marks on the walls. Long, narrow lines indented into the wood. Sometimes when the wind is fierce, it sounds like a child is crying.”

             Our heartbeats change into slow, delayed beats. We are all hypnotised by our own interpretation. A house in the middle of nowhere is not only the home to my frightening boss, it is also a place of deadly secrets. Children's books dripping in blood, and rooms with bolted doors infused in darkness circle my mind. I envisage the tear-drenched faces of young children. Their tiny fingers reach out to me, but a busty woman with a long mane and silvery steel eyes stands in my way.

             The older gentleman breaks up the meditative state of the guests and delivers us our main course. A baby sheep chopped into pretty patterns with a smudge of dressing.

           “My chef has worked all day to prepare this, so please tuck in.”

          Requested by the woman in charge, all six of us attempt at eating our mains. We move the food around our plates, placing the meat in different corners, and when we are brave enough, we swallow a segment of the baby sheep. With force we use our canines to transfer the meal down our throat and as the flavours massage our mouth, we limit our response.

                “Now is a good time to talk about targets for the year and how we are going maximise potential from our teams.”  Renee introduces a new conversation, a conversation she wanted us to have all night. For the rest of the dinner party, work, targets, budgets are the only topic of discussion.

                I am relieved when the dessert plates and coffee cups are taken away. I can finally escape.

               Martha, the head of HR, is the first to excuse herself. As soon as she goes for her coat, I jump out of my seat. “Thank you for the dinner. I am tired. I will see you Monday.”

               I hurry out of the room and into the corridor. It seems longer than before. Every step I take, a creak leaps from the floorboards and doors leading to unknown locations screech and slide, forcing me to stumble. When my fingers reach the doorknob, a sharp shrill noise prevents me from turning.

            “Hope you had a wonderful evening.” Renee’s figure standing as a shadow at the far end of the corridor is all my eyes can make sense of. It is enough to push me outside.

             On my journey home, I listen to every word the taxi driver mutters. I agree with his radical ideas of a free society, begging him to share more. His words heal me, they make forget my boss and the story she shared with me.

             “Right here we are.”

             The taxi reverses into a tight spot in front of my flat. My throat becomes tight, my hands clammy. I don’t want to leave this driver's presence. I don’t want to be alone, but at least I am home. A modern building surrounded by others.

             My flat is just as I left it. A pile of magazines cover the coffee table, a mound of washing relax on the sofa, and other than the distant bangs from my neighbours the place is quiet. It just me and my thoughts.

           Red wine offers some form of relief. It’s not a full-bodied wine Renee drinks. It tastes of coloured vinegar and as it cascades down my throat my reflexes contract. I keep topping myself up until it sends me into a coma. Sometimes our dreams are the scariest place to be. I return to the secret library towering above the sparse Yorkshire dales. There is no sign of life, yet Renee’s belongings, all expensive antiques, are in their correct positions. Through the hallway, I hunt for the front door. It has been replaced by an oversized Georgian window. I sprint up to the glass panel, and with my palms spread across the frame I try to move the window but it is like a brick wall. I make a second attempt. My legs transport my body towards the historic window, but before I reach the finish line, I halt, frozen solid. An oval shape appears from outside. At first inspection, all I see is its crystalline form. The shape presses itself against the glass panel and I shift my legs nearer. I take a gasp of air. Protruding out of the oval shape is two metallic eyes, and lips pulled in opposite directions.

             I shoot up out of my bed, my eyes charging open. An artificial glow irradiates my dressing table and staring at me is the shadow of my makeup box. It was just a dream.

             I fall back onto the soft mattress and pay attention to the wailing police sirens and drunken slurs. An unending orchestral melody joins the evening soundscape.

            “My phone.”  I sprint for the front room. Martin’s pointy nose and shiny forehead irradiates through my open bag.

           “Hey Gem, why did you leave so early? You know she showed us the room. John asked, and she took us upstairs. I saw the scratch marks. I think they were murdered in our boss’s house.”

           The sensation of a gigantic hand places itself around my throat, obstructing my breath, but it’s not the excitement in Martin's voice that has me fighting for air. OK, Hello, Glamour, Vogue belong in an untidy pile on the coffee table. That is there place in my home. They are no longer in a messy heap. OK is open on a page of celebrities’ dresses. Hello is sprawled out on my sofa and a collection of Vogues form a U-shape on the floor.

         “Gem, are you there?”

          My shaky hands drop the phone.

          I take an inhale and an exhale. I repeat this act. On my fifth exhale, as my rib muscles relax, a sharp edge grating itself against a surface slaps my ears. Someone is inside my home.

           The sharp edge intensifies its grind, and the sound becomes louder, faster.

           The bathroom light is on. This forgetful mistake I made when I was stumbling to bed seems a plausible place for the source of the noise and with two strides, I face the handle. I grip the lever, moving it south, and as my heart struggles to keep up with its beat, I launch myself inside. 

            It's vacant. Other than an occasional drip of water from the tap, it is a quiet space.

            I turn to the mirror, inspecting the effect tonight has had on my body. Leftover mascara accentuates the circles under my eyes, and my puffy cheeks display my bodies yearn for water. I place my fingers over my face, searching for beauty. My lips are chapped, my hair is brittle, but my emerald eyes glow. Inviting and enigmatic, they are my finest quality. I move in closer and locked in a gaze my eyes and its reflection stare at one another. A flicker of white appears in the irises. It multiplies. A layer of black materializes next to the white, changing my eyes vibrancy to cold, dull.

                “No.” I weep.

                I reach for the door handle, pulling it in different directions, but it refuses to open. I clench my muscles and try again. It is no use; the bathroom door is locked from outside.

              Erratic steps, soft in noise and clumsy in movement, followed by joyful shrieks appear from behind the door.

              “Can you get me out of here?”

               A delicate voice, innocent and honeyed, resonates through the wooden door. “The lady will let you out, you just have to scratch the walls.”

               “What!”    

                 “Scratch the walls as hard as you can and she will let you out.”

                 I take the tips of my fingers, placing them on the door panel and with my nails scrape the scored surface.

                “You have to do better than that. She likes to see blood.” The voice lowers its tone, hissing its advice. 

           I return my hands to the door and collapse onto my knees. My breath turns into aggressive pants. Using this as power, I dig my nails into the bathroom door and claw the timber surface. Pain sears the ends of my hands, and cracks emerge through the skin. I attempt a final scratch and force my fingers as far as they can go, and as the skin around my nail beds split open, a stream of blood seeps out.

           The morning sun rests on my face and a rumble of car engines stirs my sleep. There is something about daylight that gives strength and takes away your fears. Blotches of red stain the duvet and there is discomfort in every touch. I ignore it. Whatever happened last night is over. The torment is nothing more than a memory. 

           I complete my usual morning routine. A cup of coffee and a browse through my magazines. Whoever dispersed them around the room has returned them to the coffee table. All except April’s issue of Vogue. Perhaps there is a message inside? An insight into the entity that haunted my flat.

            I grab the glossy publication and explore its content. It’s the same old stuff. Latest trends swamping the runaways and models with flawless skin and lavish dresses. I don’t stop. Something inside this magazine is a clue to the unexplained events of last night. The reason behind the burning ache in my nails. A ripped page at the end of the magazine leads me to articles on minor celebrities and unknown designers. There it is. A business owner who restores antiques has completed an extravagant project. The image takes up most of the space. A building with symmetrical Georgian windows, and its owner, centre stage.

          “My aim for purchasing the library was returning this building to what it was. Somewhere you never forget.”

             I hurl the magazine to other end of the room. How dare that woman and her home be in my front room? 

             My phone vibrates through a pillow and Martin re-appears on the screen.

            “Gem, I had the weirdest dreams. I was in a room in Renee’s house and I couldn’t get out. I think something followed me home. Gem.” Martin repeats my name, his bottom lip shaking. “Gem, what’s happened to your eyes? Have they changed colour? They look grey, silver almost. They are Renee’s eyes.”

October 22, 2020 21:51

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6 comments

Daniel R. Hayes
07:56 Jan 22, 2021

Hi Emma, I thought this story was great. I liked the twist, and thought you wrote it well. My favorite line in the story is "There is something about daylight that gives strength and takes away your fears." Talk about fantastic, what a great line. Great job.

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Emma Taylor
23:11 Jan 22, 2021

Thank you. I started off writing paranormal fiction so I was so excited with this prompt.

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Emma Taylor
23:11 Jan 22, 2021

Thank you. I started off writing paranormal fiction so I was so excited with this prompt.

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Daniel R. Hayes
00:21 Jan 23, 2021

That's fantastic, you did a wonderful job writing this story. I enjoyed reading it.

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Sue Marsh
17:33 Oct 29, 2020

Emma, the ending is a really great twist! I enjoyed the storyline. It followed the prompt well. Sue P.S. if you have time please read my Return to Garrison Hall.

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Emma Taylor
22:28 Oct 29, 2020

Thank you, yes I will read it now.

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