I had invited all the right people and my naked skin felt cool and comfortable beneath my skimpy maid costume. The party would be held out in the backyard lit by a giant bonfire. Hell, even the Pagans were planning on attending!
As I was walking out and admiring the beautiful large full moon I felt a frisson of fear skitter down my back. I shuddered and crossed my arms over my chest. I tried to shake off the feeling of dread and went back to admiring my decorations. They were really spooky and I was sure that this explained my earlier experience.
My husband, Jake, had suggested we host the party outside on our property instead of the rented hall when he heard the forecast. Clear skies, moderate breeze, overnight low of 68. Pretty warm for a Massachusetts fall night, though the meteorologist said that the temperature would drop dramatically next week.
Jake came to my side and flashed me a smile. “What did I tell you? Didn't I say that out here would be perfect? It's so darn creepy out here.”
I agreed. The field near the woods behind our house always made me feel jittery. Even with someone with me, I didn't go near it if I didn't have to, and I never went alone. Something about the field was wrong, although I couldn't explain it. Even now, with all these people around me, I felt unsettled. Jake knew of my reluctance to be here, and hoped my vibe would be contagious for the rest of the guests.
I looked at our house over my shoulder. My eyes followed the path lights leading from the grassy field up to our deck many yards away. I wanted to run back to it, slam the sliding glass door, and shut out the night. Almost every light in the house was on to guide guests that needed a break or to use the restroom, and the glow called to me.
“Yep, creepy,” I agreed at last, telling myself that I was being silly. I grabbed a tray of drinks from the buffet table and smiled back at Jake. “Time to go be a maid!” I said, forcing a laugh.
I moved through the crowd, wondering if anyone would notice if the hostess went home to hide under the covers. I stumbled into a redheaded woman wearing a fairy princess costume.
“Easy now! You okay?” she said, catching both me and my tray as I stumbled forward.
“Lots of people here tonight,” she interrupted. “Do you really think that's wise? All these people...out here?”
“What do you mean?” I struggled to focus on the woman. A stronger feeling of dread washed over me as I realized I was near the edge of the crowd, and this stranger was not helping matters. Who was she, anyway? Must be a friend of a friend. Someone's date or something.
“I think you know, whether or not you want to admit it. Lots of people equals lots of energy. Strange things happen when there's the right kind of energy in the wrong kind of place,” she said. Her hand wandered to her neck and played with a small gold cross.
“Great, that's all I need,” I thought. “Religious fanatics showing up to my party.”
She raised her eyebrows as if she heard my thought. “Be careful and don't let anyone wander off. That's all I'm saying. This place feels off, if you know what I mean, and I can see in your face that you do.”
“I don't know what you're talking about,” I muttered, but shot a nervous glance at the edge of the woods several yards away. Standing between two trees was a tall man, dressed all in black. I couldn't see his face.
“Looks like someone had too much to drink,” I said. “I'd better grab him before he wanders off.”
“Man?” said the redhead, following my eyes. Her own eyes widened. “No, stop!” she said, and tried to grab my arm but missed.
“Shut up, freak,” I said. I was in no mood to listen to any more prattlings of a crazy woman. With the feeling of responsibility for my guests momentarily overcoming my fear, I headed for the man, tray still in hand.
“You there!” I said as I got closer. “Don't go wandering! It's dark in the woods. Come back to the party! Oh, hey, that's a great costume!”
The man before me wasn't only dressed in black, but even his skin was as dark as the night around him. Not dark like African descent, but dark like a shadow. A three dimensional shadow.