Prompt: “The butler did it!”
Dinner parties were always dull in my opinion, but my wife loved them. She either hosted them or dragged me along to one of her friends’ house for a night of mind numbing small talk. I loved my wife, I truly did, but for some reason she thought I was gentleman that wouldn’t dare put a whoopee cushions under the elegant seat cushion of one the dining room chairs in a game I called fart roulette. The memory of the mortified looked on my wife’s face when she had sat down on the wrong chair continues still makes me giggle. My wife has yet to forgive me for that one, and she also had not planned another dinner party at our house because of my antics.
I had been a jokester since my days as a young boy. If a desk belonged to a girl, it would eventually house a frog. If someone left their laces undone, they would soon find them tied together. Nothing had changed throughout the years, and even college didn’t dampen my spirit to prank my nearest and dearest. My wife and I had met by the means of a rubber snake and a fishing line, and that was before we even started to date. I loved to play jokes on her. Despite the years that should have prepared her for my weekly pranks, it always caught her by surprise.
But something was different this week. My wife was acting suspiciously, which wasn’t hard to tell given that she was as innocent as a lamb. She was hiding something from me, but when I tried to investigate any possible scrupulous activity, I came up empty handed. I decided to postpone my planned prank involving baby oil, feathers and a finish of hidden Kool-aid powder in the shower head. I began to grow excited at the possibility of her planing a retaliation against me after all the years of torment she had endured at my hands. My heart sank when we climbed in the car on Friday night and she said we were going to dinner with some friends.
I’ll admit it, I sulked during the drive until I realized we weren’t going to the usual house of boredom. We were headed out of town and toward the lake. When I asked about our destination my wife kept her answers short and vague. I didn’t push it, because if she had a surprise in store for me, I wanted to enjoy it. Our small car followed the lakeside road that wove through the tall pines while keeping the edges of water within view. The mountains were mirrored in the distance, clouds gathering and colluding around the peaks The evening was well upon us by the time we drove up to a large cabin. The front was almost entirely windows to make the most of the view of the mountain and lakes. A walk around balcony separated the two floors, leading to a large deck set with a pair of tables and a gracious barbecue.
Sarah, my wife, parked the car next to her friend’s baby blue Subaru and climbed out to greet her college friend, Tina. John, Tina’s husband, instantly honed in on me and extended his hand. I reached for it only to have John pull his hand away at the last second. “Knowing you, you probably have a buzzer ready to shock me.”
Well, at least someone understood me. I smiled and held up both of my hands to show I was unarmed before John would consent to shaking my hand. After wards he patted my shoulder, “Are you ready for dinner?”
I narrowed my eyes suspiciously at the grin John was sporting just above his overly defined chin. Perhaps I was eager to know what my wife was scheming for the evening, but John’s overly casual question about dinner made me wonder if her joke would come into light at the dining table. I caste a side-long glance at my wife, who was too busy chatting to notice, then I nodded to John. “I can’t wait.”
As the evening progressed over drinks, I was introduced to another couple (Tamara and Dwayne) who were friends with the host. The man of the house remained elusive, but I met the man’s wife as she fervently worked away in the kitchen with an impressive ability to balance a glass of wine in one hand while she chopped carrots. She introduced herself as Sharon and told me that she had heard so much about me from my wife (apparently they went to the same workout class on Tuesdays). I wondered if they had really talked about me or if she was just putting on a friendly act, because I had never heard about her until tonight. I found my wife to confront her about the lapse in information.
“I did tell you about her,” My wife argued in a hushed tone as we stood by the windows over looking the lake that was being tormented by the cold winds pushing in from the north. “You just weren’t listening.”
She left me to sour by the window with my drink. I watched the white caps slide over the surface of the lake, and the pine trees sway in motion with the strengthening wind. It was as I checked the time on my watch that the owner of the house appeared next to me. At first all I saw of him was a dark reflection on the surface of the window. He was dressed in jeans with a button up and a sports jacket to be just on the edge of formal. In one hand he held a tumbler glass much like mine, but what drew my attention most was the over-sized ring on his index finger. He tapped it on his glass to draw my attention. Obediently I turned and gave the man a smile, one of which he did not return, at least not at first.
He was an older man, his dark hair receded back well past his ears to give what was left on top a beak-like shape in how it pointed forward then curled down over his pale brow. His face reminded me of chalk, not only because of its pallor, but it appeared the man had dabbed himself with powder before joining the party. His dark eyes were set on me, but his thin lips didn’t part to introduce himself. I swallowed down my impression of weirdo and extended my hand, “The name’s Fred, I hear our wives hang out together.”
The man looked back over his shoulder toward the kitchen, maybe this was the first time he heard about it too, then he faced me and nodded his head instead of shaking my hand. “Enjoying yourself?”
Yes, until you showed up to creep me out, I thought to myself. Instead I smiled, bobbled my head in an earnest nod and took a sip of my drink to stall the need for talk. He drew up to the window next to me, he was just and inch or two shorter than me. For a long time, or maybe it was just a moment that felt like it stretched on for eternity, the man didn’t speak to me. I stood awkwardly at his side watching the wind harass the lake.
“Storm is moving in,” He stated.
I really hated small talk, “Seems so. I was hoping to have dinner soon so me and Sarah could head out before it hits.”
He turned his stoic features toward me, “Sharon is very particular how she cooks.”
It wasn’t an affirmation of when dinner would be served, but I got the impression that I was being rude by asking for a time frame. I swallowed down the last of my drink, then gazed forlornly at my empty glass in hopes it communicated my need to excuse myself for another drink.
“If the storm is too bad, you are always welcome to stay the night,” He said as I took a step away.
Inwardly I cringed and kept on toward the kitchen, “I’ll let Susan know.”
I found my wife in the living room gabbing with Tina and with some annoying tugs at her elbow and expressing that I needed her for just a moment, she reluctantly followed me into the foyer. “These people are weird.”
Susan shifted her weight so her hip tilted in a motion I was familiar with, she was annoyed at me, “Don’t be like that.”
“I’m serious, besides, we should go before the storm gets bad.”
“I want a nice evening out,” Susan hissed at me. “Don’t spoil this for me. It’s the first time we’ve been invited somewhere this nice.”
I pouted, but my kicked puppy routine had no effect on her inner fury. She gave me a pointed look before abandoning me for the company of her long-time friend. I wasn’t use to this sort of situation. I didn’t know these people, other than Tina and her dimwit husband John, and having no one to really talk to to pass the time was really putting a downpour on the whole situation.
By the time dinner was finally set on the table, I was another two drinks in and the rain had began to splatter against the windows. The lake was no longer visible through the onset of darkness brought in by the storm. I could make out the tips of pine boughs as they trashed like a panicked person might wave their arms in distress. Jittery trees aside, the food smelled divine. I took a seat next to my wife, who was pointedly ignoring me other than to shoot me warning glances, and happily loaded up my plate.
A strong gale pressed against the windows, howling as it hit the eaves. I heard the house shutter and then the lights flickered. The wind shook the windows a second time, their roar followed by a crashing sound somewhere out on the deck. We all listened, our meals forgotten as the invisible force tried to claw its way inside the cabin.
“It’s probably the patio chairs,” Sharon commented from somewhere inside her wine glass.
As if hearing its cue, another gust of wind pushed the fallen chair and rammed it against the deck window, sending up a spiderweb of cracks from where the leg had struck.
The host stood from his seat at the head of the table, “Someone help me put them away.”
I was midway through finishing off my mash potatoes when I realized no one else was moving. My wife looked pointedly at me and I dropped my spoon with a grimace exaggerated by alcohol. “Well don’t everyone one volunteer at once. I’ll help you out.”
Mr. Creepy loaned me a rain slicker that did little to ward off the rain once we were outside. It took us maybe a half hour to move the patio furniture under the deck. The wind seemed to take our actions as a personal insult because it threw a branch right at the host’s head. He staggered from the blow and I had to put an arm behind his shoulders to help him back into the cabin. I handed him off to his concerned wife and went in search of my own spouse in hopes of being rewarded for being so helpful, but all I found were the other two couples sitting in the living room.
I looked at Tina, “Where’s Susan?”
She shrugged, “Maybe in the bathroom?”
The lights flickered and then there came a scream from down the hall. Despite the alcohol in my system I was sprinting toward the sound before I fully registered what I was doing. I found Sharon and her husband in the hallway and in front of them laid my wife, a knife sticking out of her back. My heart stopped for a second, then I began to laugh. I pointed to the hosting couple, shaking my finger at the joke they were trying to play on me. I was the prank king, they wouldn’t pull a fast one on me. “Is this your version of a murder mystery dinner party?”
I knelt on the floor next to my wife, “Nice try, honey. Let me guess, the butler did it?”
Laughing merrily, I grabbed the handle of the knife and pulled it free. I expected a plastic gag gift, not a solid metal blade with front three inches coated in blood. My gaze snapped down to the gash in Susan’s back and the blood oozing from the wound. “Oh my god..”