“Let’s just find the car and go home,” I whispered to Dean, my eyes searching the perimeter of the room even as I struggled to put a fake smile on my face.
We had come to this place because Dana didn’t want to go alone, but she had heard so much about this Neil guy and about how awesome his parties were. He had a huge house with a half-acre of land around it, surrounded by a six-foot stone wall. He acts like he’s in the Playboy Mansion, I had thought when I first arrived. A line had formed in front of the gate, and two men stood on either side of the gate, letting people in two or three at a time. It’s not a nightclub, I thought irritably. It already didn’t look like the kind of party I normally enjoyed, and Dean looked like he agreed with me. But Dana had spied us and come running up to us like a giddy school girl.
“They’re handing out candy!” she said, laughing. “I can see in the gate; his place looks awesome!” Her eyes were dancing, and she was clearly warming up to the idea of this party.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” I had confided to Dean. I could actually feel anxiety forming in the pit of my stomach. “I don’t think that’s ‘candy’ they’re handing out.”
Dean had agreed with a deeply suspicious frown that it was probably not candy. But we decided that we didn’t want Dana to go in there alone – especially since she seemed a little clueless about the candy. She had already eaten most of it before I could even talk to her about it.
I had walked in, meekly taking the handful of hard candy that one of the greeters handed me. As I looked around the impressively landscaped yard, and at the dozens of people who had gathered there with candy and drinks in their hands, I was assailed with the notion that all of them were going to die. I tried to shrug this feeling off – it must just be a quirk of my admittedly fanciful imagination – but it only became stronger as Dean and I walked through the house itself. Instead of being able to admire the place – truly a grand endeavour, and I wondered what Neil did for a living that he could afford all this, especially in the middle of the city – I just kept coming back to the certainty that anyone who ate the candy was going to be killed. Finally, I shared my feeling with Dean, and, even though I had no reason to think such a thing, he didn’t argue with me.
“It is really weird here,” he said, also forcing a smile onto his face and trying to look casual. “You find Dana, and I’ll go get the car. It’s just around the corner.”
I nodded, and nonchalantly walked away from him, an untouched drink in my hand. I had discarded my clump of candy as soon as I could, but something told me not to give away my unease. I started looking around for Dana.
I found Neil instead. “I hope you like it,” he said pleasantly, indicating his house. “I haven’t been here very long; I’m still getting settled.” He was clean-cut, his white button-down shirt tucked neatly into khakis and his blond hair combed to the side as though it were picture-day at school. He certainly didn’t seem like the kind of guy who would hand out trick-candy or hurt anyone. He didn’t even seem like the kind of guy who would throw a party.
“It’s beautiful,” I said. I stepped closer to him. “I’m looking for my friend Dana,” I added. “She said she didn’t want to be here alone, but as soon as we got in here, she disappeared.”
Neil laughed. “Well, I’ll take that as a compliment,” he said. “She must feel like she fits in here, which is all I could want for my guests.” He put a hand on my shoulder. “I’ll help you look for her,” he offered, and gestured for me to precede him into the kitchen. “A lot of people are in here waiting for the barbecue.”
Barbecue? Maybe I really was just imagining things. The guy seemed genuine and non-threatening, and a barbecue sounded like the least suspicious thing I could think of. Plus it smelled really good.
My phone beeped, letting me know I was getting a text. I pulled it out and saw that it was from Dean. “I’m in the car,” it read. “People in the yard are falling down. Get out of there now.”
I made sure to keep my expression and tone light and cheerful. “I’ll be right back,” I told Neil, setting my drink on the nearby counter. “I need to go the little girls’ room.”
He smiled. “It’s down that hall,” he said, pointing. “Third door on the left.”
“Thanks,” I said, trying to smile at him in a flirtatious way and hoping I didn’t just look ridiculous. “Be right back.” I turned and headed down the hall, ending up finally in the most spacious bathroom I had ever seen. Three people were already in it, two of them passed out in the massive tub and one of them lying unconscious on the floor in front of the toilet. I stepped carefully onto the rim of the tub and climbed up to the window; outside in the growing dusk I saw countless bodies scattered across the lawn. As I watched, four more guests, their drinks slipping from their fingers, staggered to their knees and then collapsed on the grass. Beyond them, over the wall, I saw Dean’s car. It was only fifty feet away.
Trying to be silent, I opened the window and climbed through it, dropping to the ground ten feet below and hiding in the bushes for a moment while I searched the yard for Neil’s greeters. Both of them stood at the gate, handing out candy to the unsuspecting people who still waited to get in. I leapt out of the bushes and sprinted for the wall. I can do this, I told myself, jumping up and grabbing the top of the wall. It was a struggle – I wasn’t as strong as I had hoped I would be – but my dread of staying gave me the extra energy I needed to pull myself to the top of the wall.
I dropped down to the sidewalk and raced for Dean’s car. “Go!” I shouted, diving into the passenger seat and pulling the door closed behind me. I locked the door. “Go, go, go!”
Dean complied, driving away from Neil’s party as quickly as he could. “Where’s Dana?” he asked me. I was already calling her, but the phone just rang and rang, and then went to voice-mail.
“She’s not answering,” I said. Tears were running down my face. I called Dana again, and this time someone answered. “Dana?” I cried. “Are you okay? We’ll come get you.”
Neil’s affable voice replied. “I’m afraid Dana’s not available,” he said. “But please come back. It’s going to be a great party.”
I turned to Dean and shook my head; feeling like I had just overheard a murder, I ended the call. “I think Dana’s already dead,” I said, hearing my own voice as though it belonged to someone else. “She ate the candy.”
“If we go back for her,” Dean said tersely. “I’m afraid we’ll just get trapped there.” He turned the car toward down-town. “We’ll go to the police. They’ll find her.”
We went to the police and told them what had happened. They sent some officers to Neil’s house. Dean had kept one of the candies; he gave it to the cop who was taking our statement, and the cop put it in a baggy and set it on his desk. We waited for what seemed like forever, hoping that they’d tell us they had found Dana.
After about twenty minutes, the whole station erupted into frantic energy, people running this way and that, and shouting. “Officers down!” someone yelled. “They’re pinned down!” While some threw out words like “ambush” and “trapped” and “shoot-out”, a few offered the bone-chilling “bloodbath.”
I looked at Dean, who looked bleakly back at me. I grabbed his hand and leaned my head against his shoulder; I couldn’t find any words to say.
My phone beeped, letting me know I had a text. It was from Dana. “You’ve got to come back!” it read. “This party’s AMAZING!”