Costumes Required (Short Fiction)

(Author’s Note: this story is read and discussed on the current episode of Rough Draft Out Loud – check it out at http://www.roughdraftoutloud.com)

The invitation to Mark and Helen’s Halloween party was specific. No children. Costumes required. Mark was a borg. He set up a black hose that came up his arm and neck and could go in his mouth. When he put the little hose in his mouth he could sip from his cocktail just like a borg would. Helen was Helen Ramone, complete with a black wig and the seminal punk rock band’s iconic black leather jacket. They decorated with cotton spider webs and bowls full of plastic spiders and plastic fingers. Helen replaced several of the lights with black or red bulbs. They made Jello shots and put on a Halloween music mix that included Werewolves in London and at least seven covers of Monster Mash. Then they waited.

“Someone’s going to bring their fucking kid,” Helen told Mark as they sat on the couch and watched the front door to the house expectantly. The party flier said the party would start at 8 and it was five minutes til.

“Well,” Mark told her. “If someone brings a kid we just kill them both and use their insides for extra decoration.”

Helen smiled.

“DINK powers activate,” Mark said and put out his fist for a marital fist bump. Helen bumped his fist.

“No babies,” Helen said.

“No babies,” Mark agreed. “Hookers and blow instead.”

Helen nodded. “Or just vacations and grown-up parties.”

“Alcoholism for the win,” Mark said. He took a sip from his beer. He put out his fist for another bump.

“I’m not fist bumping alcoholism,” Helen told him.

“You and my parents,” Mark said and shook his head. “You never support me.”

Helen grabbed a candy from the dish on the table and unwrapped it but didn’t eat it.

Mark put his borg hose in his beer and sipped. “Mmm,” he said. “Tastes like plastic gloves and face paint.” He looked at his watch and sighed. He put his feet up on the coffee table.

“You know Adam is going to show up without a costume,” Helen informed her husband.

Mark turned to her. “I told him it was required.”

Adam,” Helen said Mark’s old college friend’s name like it was enough to end the discussion.

“Nah,” Mark replied. He sipped more beer. “This is really, really terrible,” he confessed.

“Stop drinking through the stupid tube then,” Helen suggested.

Mark shrugged. “It’s Halloween,” he said. “I don’t make the rules.” He pointed at the candy in her hand. “Are you going to eat that piece of chocolate or are you holding onto it for moral support?”

Helen threw the miniature chocolate bar at her husband. It bounced off his forehead and fell into his lap.

Mark looked down at the chocolate. “I see you went with option three.”

“I always go with option three,” Helen told him.

Mark picked up the chocolate and ate it. “What the fuck is nougat actually supposed to be?” he asked, smacking his lips as he finished the candy. “Does it come from a tree or a bean or something? Is there nougat fruit?”

“No,” Helen said. “There’s not.”

The doorbell rang and Helen jumped up to her feet.

“You don’t know there isn’t a nougat tree,” Mark told her.

Helen gave Mark the finger and opened the door to her friends Lisa and Corey. They were both dressed in sheer silver gowns with gossamer wings attached to the back and held matching silvery wands. They both had colorful makeup around their eyes and spikey moussed up hair. Corey had glitter in his beard and the chest hair that came up from the gown.

“You two look awesome!” Helen told the couple.

“I know, right?” Lisa said as they came inside. “If I knew Corey looked this good in drag we would have had some very different wedding photos.”

“I’m a sexy fucking fairy princess,” Corey agreed. He did a little twirl to show off the wings.

“Somehow, I’ve always known that about you,” Mark told Corey. He got up from the couch and walked toward the kitchen. “Beer?”

“I would not say no to seven or eight beers tonight,” Corey said. “Who’s got two thumbs and isn’t the designated driver?” he asked and pointed two thumbs at himself.

“I don’t remember agreeing to that,” Lisa told Corey.

Corey took a beer from Mark quickly and took a long drink. “What’s that?” he asked. “Sorry, I couldn’t hear you.”

“I was designated driver for nine months,” Lisa retorted and pointed at her no-longer pregnant belly. “Twice.”

Corey kept drinking his beer and staring back at his wife. He had no come back for this.

“We have Jello shots with little bits of fruit that look kind of like eyeballs,” Helen announced.

“Fuck it,” Lisa said. “We’re taking a cab home. Gimme an eyeball shot.”

Mark turned to Corey. “Did you take the girls out trick or treating in that?”

“God, no,” Corey replied. “Becks isn’t old enough to even register Halloween yet and Daddy playing princess dress up is not an expectation I need Libby to have. Besides my mother-in-law thinks it would irreparably damage their little brains if they see Daddy in a dress so she insisted that they stay with her for the weekend. I did not argue with that.”

Helen and Lisa both took eyeball Jello shots and struggled not to grimace.

“These taste like cough syrup mixed up with pixie sticks,” Helen told Mark.

Mark nodded. “Yeah. That sounds right.”

“So are you a Star Wars character or a Doctor Who character?” Corey asked Mark.

“Go fuck yourself,” Mark told Corey.

Corey cracked a big smile. “You want to tell me all about your costume, don’t you? You want to tell me about the Star Doctor and his adventures. You need to tell me about it.”

“Star Trek,” Mark replied.

“There it is,” Corey said. “Let the dork flow freely, my friend. Let it all out.”

The doorbell rang again and Helen went to open it. She opened it and then closed it immediately. “Mark,” she called out. “It’s Adam. I was right.”

“Dammit, Adam,” Mark cursed under his breath. “I got it.” He walked toward the door and picked up a box of spare Halloween masks. The box was dubbed the “Adam Box” by Helen. He opened the door to his friend, standing in jeans and a hoody. He thrust the box toward Adam. “Pick one,” he said.

“What?” Adam asked looking down at the box.

“This is a costume party, dude,” Mark told him. “Pick a mask or you’re not allowed to come inside.”

“Oh, I’m wearing a costume,” Adam informed Mark. Mark waited for the explanation. “I’m a guy that’s not buying into the whole bullshit Halloween industrial complex. I’m a free thinker.”

Mark nodded. “You’re dressed as a guy that can’t come to my Halloween party if you don’t pick a mask out of this box.”

Adam looked in the box and then back up at Mark. “Are there chips and alcohol in there?”

“So many chips,” Mark told him. “So much booze.”

“Fuck,” Adam sighed. He fished out a crazy zombie killer mask and put it on. “Happy now?”

 

***

 

Guests showed up over the next couple hours. Eventually there were people crowding the living room, dining room, and kitchen. Old friends, neighbors, work friends. Karen, the woman who sat in the cubicle next to Helen was there with her girlfriend, Mandy. They were dressed as old people. Two guys from Mark’s office were pirates and spent most of the night passive aggressively complimenting and insulting each other’s pirate choices when they met near the chips. Remy, the drug dealer that lived down the block was dressed as a bong and gave out joints and his contact information to anyone that asked. The party was going well. The Jello shots diminished and empty bottles and cans of beer covered many of the tables and counter spaces. Monster Mash played for the hundredth time and Mark ate a pound of bite sized candy.

“They were in one of the movies even,” Mark told Corey for the fifth or sixth time.

“I haven’t seen any of the new Star Wars movies,” Corey replied.

“Star Trek!” Mark repeated. “Star Trek! Star Trek! Star Trek motherfucker! You know it’s Star Trek! You’ve know it the whole time!

Corey laughed so hard he couldn’t catch his breath.

“He’s fucking with you, husband,” Helen breathed into Mark’s ear.

“I’m gonna assimilate his bearded ass!” Mark shouted loud enough it got everyone’s attention at the party.

“Maybe you should switch to water for a little bit?” Helen suggested.

Mark scowled at Helen and Corey and headed for the kitchen.

“I love the costume,” someone Mark didn’t recognize told him as he got into the refrigerator and fished out another beer. “Resistance is futile.”

Mark smiled and turned to the guest. He had a hood up from a black jacket. Beneath the hood Mark could see small horns and gray makeup. He was some kind of devil. “Thank you,” Mark told him. “I don’t think we’ve met…”

“Ah,” the devil said. “Sorry.” He put out his hand. “I’m Tim,” he said. “Helen’s friend.”

“Cool,” Mark said and shook his head. He looked down at Tim’s hand and saw he had gnarly yellow fingernails and gray almost scaly skin. “That’s commitment,” he commented.

Tim looked down at his hand. “Halloween comes but once a year,” he said. “I maybe go a little overboard.”

Mark nodded. He looked at the makeup detail under the hood. “It looks really, really good. Like professional good.”

Tim smiled. “I wish,” he said. “Sure would be less boring being a special effects guy than what I really do for a living.” He motioned to Mark’s costume. “I love the detail in the circuitry. You could have just done the face and worn all black but you put a lot of work into the costume.”

Mark nodded. “I’ve been working on this since the summer and I spent over a hundred dollars on it.” He looked around. “Don’t tell Helen.”

“My lips are sealed,” Tim told him.

“Beer?” Mark asked and opened the refrigerator again.

“I’m good,” Tim said and picked up a bottle next to him on the counter. “Thanks though.”

“Yeah,” Mark said. “Good to meet you.”

“Definitely,” Tim agreed. “And that bean dip is crazy good.”

“Homemade,” Mark told him.

Tim gave him a thumb’s up.

Mark nodded one last time and drifted back toward the living room. He walked over to Adam. “Mask down, dude,” he told Adam. The mask was propped up on his head.

“Come on,” Adam said. “How am I supposed to drink or eat anything with a mask covering my face? I can’t even really talk.”

“Should have come in costume,” Mark suggested. Then he pulled the black tubing off of his costume and handed it to Adam. “There you go. Perfect.”

“Dammit,” Adam said.

Mark pulled the mask down over his face.

“I thought we agreed you were going to slow down on the drinking,” Helen said when she found Mark again.

“I think you agreed to that. Separately,” Mark told her. “While I was getting another beer.”

“Don’t throw up on our things,” Helen said.

“I won’t throw up on anything,” Mark said and took a drink from his beer. “Hey, I met your coworker Tim.”

“Tim?” Helen repeated.

“Yeah,” Mark said. “In the demon costume. Really incredible makeup job.”

“I don’t have a coworker named Tim,” Helen replied.

“Maybe not a coworker,” Mark said. “A friend? I don’t know. He was in the kitchen. He knows about borg.”

“I didn’t invite anyone named Tim,” Helen insisted. “You must have gotten his name wrong.”

“I didn’t get his name wrong,” Mark told her.

“You’re drunk,” she said.

“I’m not drunk,” Mark said. Then he thought about it. “Okay, I’m a little drunk but that doesn’t mean my ears don’t work.”

“Where is he now?” Helen asked.

Mark looked around the party and spotted Tim over by the chips. “There,” he said. “He really likes the bean dip.”

“I have no idea who that is,” Helen said. “I assumed he was one of your dumb friends.”

“I don’t have dumb friends,” Mark protested.

Adam,” Helen said.

“Okay, I have one,” Mark agreed. “Everyone has one. Anyway, I don’t know him. He said he was your friend.”

“That’s weird,” Helen said. “Because I don’t know him.”

“The make-up is really good,” Mark told her.

“So?” Helen asked. “I know who I invited. I know who people are, drunky. He’s not someone I know.”

“Weird,” Mark said.

“Maybe he’s a friend of a friend,” Helen suggested. “A tagalong.”

“Yeah but he said he knew you specifically,” Mark remembered.

Helen thought about it. “Maybe he thought you’d be weird if you knew he was a tagalong?”

“Maybe,” Mark replied. “Or maybe he’s a party crasher.”

“Yeah,” Helen said. “That seems possible. He just picked our Halloween party to crash out of literally a million Halloween parties happening in the city right now because our bean dip is that rad.”

“There aren’t a million Halloween parties happening right now in Portland,” Mark said. “That’s a blatant exaggeration. There are maybe a hundred thousand.”

Helen turned to her husband. “I love you so much,” she told him. “You’re a very strange man.”

“I love me being a very strange man too,” Mark said.

Helen stared at Tim. “I am a little creeped out about this now though.”

“It’s a little odd,” Mark added.

“We should just talk to him,” Helen offered. “Sort it out.”

“Who are you and how did you get in our house?” Mark suggested. “What are your plans? Are you going to rape us and then kill us later or in the other order?”

“Um, third option,” Helen said.

“Yeah,” Mark said. “I took that to a dark place. I’m sorry.”

“We’re going,” Helen said and walked toward the dining room table loaded down with chips. She stopped in front of Tim. “Hi,” she said.

“Hi,” Tim replied. “Great party.”

Mark hurried after Helen and stood submissively behind her.

“Tim, is it?” Helen asked.

Tim nodded his head slowly. “Yeah,” he said.

“I’ve never met you before,” Helen said.

“You haven’t,” Tim said and kept nodding.

“Is that a question or an admission?” Mark asked in a strangely accusatory way.

“Excuse me?” Tim asked. “I don’t understand the question.”

“Did you tell my husband you were my friend?” Helen asked Tim.

Tim picked up a chip and got some more bean dip. He ate it quickly. He made a sound that sort of sounded like “mmmm hmmm,” and kept nodding.

“Was that a yes?” Mark asked him.

“Kinda,” Tim said.

“Kinda?” Helen repeated.

Mark stepped forward and closer to Tim. “Are you some kind of Halloween party crashing psychopath?”

“Fuck,” Helen said and shook her head.

“I don’t know how to answer that question,” Tim told Mark.

“Adam!” Mark called out.

“Yeah, Adam is going to totally make this less all better,” Helen said.

“It’s a yes or no fucking question,” Mark said angrily. “Do you know anyone at this party?”

“Yes,” Tim said. “I know people at this party.”

“Who do you know?” Helen asked him.

Tim pointed over at Lisa. “I know Lisa,” he said. “I know her husband, Corey. I know their two daughters Rebecca and Elizabeth.”

“Did they invite you?” Helen asked.

Adam pushed toward them. “What up?” he asked Mark. His mask was pushed up again.

“Put the fucking mask down!” Mark shouted at his friend.

Adam pulled the mask down. “I feel stupid in the mask,” he said.

“Good,” Mark told him. “You should.”

“Hey,” Helen said to Tim. “I asked you a question.”

“Who’s this?” Adam asked, looking at Tim.

“I’m Tim,” Tim replied.

“We don’t know who he is,” Mark told Adam.

Adam looked over at Mark. “He’s Tim. You’re not listening, dude.”

“Not exactly,” Tim said finally.

“Not exactly what?” Adam asked.

“You’re interrupting a conversation here, Adam,” Mark told him.

“You called me over here, dude,” Adam reminded Mark.

“How did you find out about our party, Tim?” Helen pressed Tim. “Did you just walk in here?”

Tim ate another chip with bean dip. “Facebook,” he said.

“Nope,” Helen said. “Nope you’re lying.”

“That was a lie,” Tim admitted. “Yeah.” He ate a chip. “I’m sorry.”

Corey walked over to join the group. “What the fuck is going on here?”

“This is Tim,” Adam told Corey.

“Shut the fuck up, Adam!” Mark growled.

“Sorry,” Adam said and looked down.

Helen pointed at Tim. “You really need to hurry up and explain some shit before I call the cops.”

“I know both of you,” Tim told Helen and Mark. “I’ve known you both for years.”

“Nah,” Mark replied.

Tim nodded. “I know that hadn’t completely broken up with Andrew before you went out with Mark for the first time,” he told Helen. “You didn’t break up with Andrew until after your fourth date with Mark.”

“Well, that’s bullshit,” Mark said.

Helen didn’t reply.

“And I know that you spent hours arguing with people on the internet about that celebrity photo leak and how awful and sexist and terrible it was and then that night you searched everywhere on the internet for leaked photos and downloaded them,” Tim told Mark. “And you keep arguing with people on the internet about it. You have those photos stored in a hidden folder on your computer.”

“Which ones did you get, dude?” Adam asked Mark. “We should compare.”

Mark stared at Tim. “What the fuck?”

“I know a lot about you,” Tim told them. “About all of you.”

“I think you need to find the curb, buddy,” Corey told Tim. He stepped closer and put his hand on Tim’s shoulder.

“I know you’re bisexual and you told Lisa and she said she was okay with it,” Tim said to Corey. “And I know she’s not okay with it. But she should be. They’re just fantasies, right, Corey?”

Corey stepped back. He was pale and quiet.

“Are you a stalker or something?” Helen asked Tim. “A computer hacker or…?”

Tim shook his head. “No,” he replied. He pulled the hood down. The make-up was really, really good. It was too good. There were cracks and seams in it in those cracks it looked like molten lava was glowing beneath. Tim had yellow eyes and yellow crooked teeth. His gums and his tongue were jet black. “This is pretty awkward,” he said and looked around. The whole party had gone quiet and everyone was staring at him.

“Are you the devil?” Adam asked. His voice sounded ridiculous coming through the crazy zombie killer mask.

“No,” Tim replied.

“That’s fucking crazy,” Mark said. “Obviously.”

“I’m just a devil,” Tim said. “A cog in the whole apparatus. Middle management.”

“Nope,” Helen said. “That’s a lie. You’re a liar. A crazy pants liar.”

Tim’s head burst into flames for a moment and then the flames disappeared. “I shouldn’t have stayed,” Tim said and shook his head. “I was just going to pop in, you know? Have a drink or and get some chips.” He grabbed and chip and dunked in the bean dip. “This is amazing bean dip. Seriously. Is there a recipe for this online somewhere?”

“Dude,” Adam said. “Your head was just on fire.”

“Who needs pot?” Remy asked the party.

Helen and Corey raised their hands.

“Are you here to kill us or drag us to hell or something?” Mark asked Tim.

“Is it because Corey thinks about dudes?” Adam asked.

“Fuck you, man,” Corey told Adam. “That’s private fucking information.” He fumed and shook his head and then looked up at everyone. “No, I’m not ashamed of it. It’s 2015. Gay marriage is legal. Sometimes I watch videos with guys. I’m bisexual. I still love my wife. I’m not ashamed of it. Fuck all of you guys.”

“Can I get some pot?” Lisa asked Remy.

Mark put up his fist for Corey to fist bump. Corey gave him the fist bump.

“I’m not here to punish anyone,” Tim said. “Come on. The devil doesn’t care about if you’re bisexual. We’re not in fucking Kentucky here.” He pointed at Mark. “But you shouldn’t download pirated comic books, Mark. Those creators barely make a living. That’s a little bit of a sin and it’s a real douche move.”

“…’kay,” Mark said and nodded uncomfortably.

Helen lit a joint and took a deep puff. She blew the smoke out and closed her eyes. “So, what exactly are you doing in my house?” she asked with her eyes still closed.

“I just wanted to hang out here for a little bit,” Tim said. He looked down at his feet. “I like Star Trek. I just rewatched Deep Space Nine. It’s a good show. We could talk about it, Mark. You know? We could just mingle. Have a couple beers and chill.”

“But you’re a devil,” Mark said.

“Yeah,” Tim said and shook his head. “This is why I don’t have any friends.” Tim looked down at his feet. “People judge me on appearance.”

Helen blinked her eyes open. “It’s a little bit more than appearance, Tim,” she said. “You’re a fallen angel or a demonic spirit or whatever the fuck a devil is. You eat souls and shit.”

“I don’t eat souls,” Tim said defensively. “That’s a fucked up stereotype. Some devils ate some souls in the middle ages and now we’re just all fucking soul eaters. I was a vegan for like nine or ten weeks over the summer. During barbecue season. I only eat ethical meat and organic produce. I’m not that different from the rest of you.” He make eye contact briefly with everyone at the party.

“You think you guys work with assholes?” Tim asked. “My coworkers are literally fucking demons. The guy in the desk next to me is a cloud of possessed flies. For lunch he takes rotten meat out of a plastic cooler. It’s disgusting.” Tim shook his head and gagged a little bit just thinking about it. “I can’t really meet normal people because they judge me and think I’m going to take them to hell. Try putting down on OKCupid that your day job is basically putting together spreadsheets and analyzing data for the Dark Lord and see how that works out.”

“Shit,” Adam said. “I mean, shit.”

“I don’t think I’m drunk enough for this right now,” Mark said. He quickly finished his beer. “Are there more Jello shots?”

“I took the last one,” Adam said.

“Fucker,” Mark told Adam.

“This raises a lot of questions,” Lisa said, handing Remy a wad of cash for a baggy of pot. “Does that mean God is real? Like the Judeo Christian man with a white beard God? Is there an afterlife? What about Jesus?”

“Fuck,” Remy said. He took a hit from a joint. “You guys throw an intense party.”

“I don’t know about God or the rest of it,” Tim told Lisa. “I just work in Hell. They don’t tell us everything. I don’t even know if there’s one Dark Lord. I think it’s a title. I think he’s just the CEO. The current Dark Lord is actually a guy from Texas with an MBA from Harvard. He’s not even a devil at all.”

“That… kind of makes sense,” Helen said and then chuckled.

“His name is Brad,” Tim told them. “The first thing he did was change the company insurance plan to a high deductible one. They say that it works out better if you get an HSA but I think that’s bullshit. I think they just don’t want to pay for better coverage.”

Helen continued to laugh. Lisa and Corey joined her.

“You’re all drug addicts,” Mark told them. “Tim is a devil, you guys. We need holy water and a fucking priest or something.”

“He seems okay,” Karen offered. She was sitting on the back of the couch next to Mandy.

Mandy nodded. “At least he’s not a Mormon or something.”

Mandy and Karen fist bumped.

“It’s okay,” Tim told Mark. “I can go. I don’t want to ruin your party. It’s just that there’s only one time a year I can hang out with people and they assume I’m just wearing a costume. And then we just chat and hangout without the whole devil thing getting in the way.”

“Don’t be an asshole, Mark,” Corey told him. “Let Tim stay.”

“How did I end up being the only person that’s uncomfortable with this?” Mark asked. He looked at the guests. He was hoping someone would chime in and say they were on his side. No one did. “Adam?” he looked over at Adam.

“Come on, dude,” Adam said. “It’s Halloween. Let the devil chill with us.”

Tim looked at Mark sheepishly.

“Wow,” Mark said. He shook his head. “Okay, whatever. You can stay.”

“Thanks, Mark!” Tim said. “Can I get you a beer?”

“Yeah,” Mark told him. “You better do that.”

Tim patted Mark on the shoulder and headed toward the kitchen.

“Hey!” Adam said excitedly. “I just realized something.”

Mark looked over at him.

“Tim isn’t wearing a fucking costume either!” Adam shouted. “Where’s that fucking box! You’re getting a mask dude!”

Mark looked at his wife. Helen just shrugged. “We wanted to have a crazy Halloween party in our 30s,” she told him. “This is just what happens now.”

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