The Invitation

 A Horror Short by Drew Forest

Clive kept the small business card clenched in his fist as he opened the door and took a seat in the back of the car. The driver had not spoken a word as he got in and before he could introduce himself they had started to depart. As he sat looking out of the window, a sudden pang of anxiety shot through his body rendering him motionless and pensive. He thought back to when the charming stranger had first pressed the card into his hand a day earlier. It had happened whilst he had been browsing through a pile of old paperbacks at a local bookstore he frequented on the outskirts of town. He had not been looking for anything in particular but as he was reading the blurb on the back of a sci-fi novel called ‘Attack of the Robo-Men’ he had started to become aware of a presence behind him. A man, as tall as the bookcase had taken up a spot directly behind him. As Clive turned around, he was instantly taken aback by his sparkling emerald green eyes and the small creases at the sides of his mouth; the fault lines of a million smiles.

‘I’ve seen you before.’ He said and the creases were brought to life as he flashed a large smile. His features seemed perfectly aligned with the rest of his face and his skin seemed to glow from beneath the day-old stubble.

‘You have?’ Clive replied, not quite sure why a man as attractive as him had even noticed him never mind take the time to come over and tell him.

‘You go to BJ’s Bar and Grill once or twice a week don’t you?’ He asked, again punctuating the end of his sentence with a wide smile.

BJ’s was a local bar in town that a lot of gay guys who were not necessarily into the ‘scene’ met other guys with similar interests . It was a bit of a rundown joint but the beer was always served cold and the burgers were always cooked to perfection. Most of the guys on the other hand were not always so perfect. Clive quite enjoyed it’s certain rustic charm and he would go in an attempt to be more social and have a few beers unlike some of the other guys who were looking for just one thing. From time to time, he had found himself striking up a conversation with a stranger but the night was always short-lived and he would never see them again. Clive presumed he was a walking deterrent but he still kept going back.

‘Yeah.’ Clive started. ‘I’ve never seen you there, I think I would remember you…’ His face flushed and he stammered, ‘I-I mean… that place is filled with regulars, new people tend to stand out… You know?’

The man with the smiles nodded and picked out one of the books off the shelf.

‘Salem’s Lot. Have you read it?’ He held up the book so Clive could see the cover and proceeded to flick through the pages.

Clive nodded and began to grow a little anxious. ‘How come you never came over to say hi in BJ’s?’

‘Oh you know, you always seemed so pre-occupied, I didn’t want to disturb you. Also you look pretty cute when you’re deep in thought.’ He flashed his teeth again and Clive felt the blood surge to his face, he searched for words but his brain could not formulate a sentence quick enough so he resorted to making a snorting sound. His face flushed even more so and he fought back an overwhelming desire to run as fast as he could out of the book store.

‘Look, this might seem a little forward but I’m hosting a party tomorrow night at my place. It’s kind of a private affair with a few of my other friends.’ He paused. ‘I know what you’re thinking, we don’t know each other or it sounds like some sort of sordid orgy or something along those lines but I assure you it’s not.’ He chuckled to himself and placed the book back on the shelf.

Clive was surprised at how quickly this stranger had been so direct with his proposal. He assumed he rarely ever heard the word ‘no’, especially when he flashed them his winning smile or touched them lightly on the shoulder with his big hands.

‘Thanks… but I…’

‘It’s Jack. Call me Jack.’ He insisted

‘Jack, it’s a nice offer and all but I’m just not sure I’m the kinda guy you want at a party.’

‘You’re the perfect kinda guy.’ Jack replied.

‘I don’t think so, it’s really nice and all but I have plans tomorrow…’

‘Change them. I really want you to come.’

‘We don’t know each other. We met just a few moments ago and I’ve only just learnt your name. I think I’ll just pass this time but thank you for the offer.’ Clive was intrigued by his persistence but at the same time was beginning to think he was being hooked into some sort of scam.

‘That’s the whole point! You get to meet other like minded guys. It’s nothing sordid, I promise. I host these parties all the time and I invite people who I’ve known for years and some that I would like to get to know a little more. I hope you don’t mind me saying but I can sense that you don’t get to go out too often. I know what that can be like so trust me when I say that this is the perfect remedy to that that feeling. You won’t regret it.’ Jack paused and Clive could feel himself being pulled into the green pools of his eyes.

‘I don’t know…’ Clive said.

‘You don’t have to decide now. Look here’s my card. There will be a driver waiting outside this book store tomorrow evening at nine. He will bring you to my place. If you don’t show then you don’t show.’ Jack grabbed Clive’s hand and pressed the card into his palm. His hand lingered on his for a few seconds before he retracted it and tilted his head to the side. ‘Whadya say?’

‘I don’t… I’ll think about it.’

Jack presented his largest grin yet and gave him a small nod of the head.

‘That’s good enough for me. I hope to see you there Clive.’ He was gone before Clive picked up on the fact that he had never told him his name.

He replayed the conversation in his head, trying to decipher any clues that Jack may have inadvertently mentioned but came up with nothing. Jack seemed like a nice enough guy but Clive couldn’t help but think there was something a little bit strange about the encounter. How many good looking men come up to another average looking guy who they have never spoken to before and invite them to their home? Clive was confident that the answer was verging around the zero mark. He shuffled back in his seat and looked at the rolling countryside and a heavy sense of doubt began to invade the lower half of his body. This was not the first time he had experienced this feeling. He had spent the day weighing up the options of whether he should go or not. He hadn’t necessarily lied when he had said that he had plans, although he did not mention that his plans were to finish the novel he was currently reading supplemented with a bottle of wine and an early night. It wasn’t until Clive received a phone call from one of his old friends to inform him that he was emigrating with his new to-be husband that Clive decided to take the opportunity of attending Jack’s party. It was about time he started to live a little. He had made a silent promise with himself, he would go on the condition that he would only have one drink and he would be home before midnight. He didn’t want to get inebriated in a place he did not know whilst surrounded by complete strangers. He had considered asking someone to come with him but when he realised that the only people he could have extended the invitation to were his landlady and the paperboy, he realised that it would be better if it stayed as a solo invitation.

The driver had still not said anything as they weaved around long stretches of country road. They passed a large ominous silhouette standing tall in one of the fields with it’s claw-like arms outstretched as though ready to catch it’s prey. Clive felt the air stick in his throat as they passed it. It took a few seconds for him to realise that it was only a scarecrow but there was something about it’s oversized arms that made his skin turn ice cold and sent a involuntary spasm of shivers through his body. He was clearly a city boy who was not used to the country-life. The moon hung low in the sky, round and full. It was normally a buttery yellow at this time of the year but this evening it glowed radioactive white.

‘I didn’t realise Jack lived this far out of town?’ Clive said to the driver.

The driver turned his head slightly to the side as though he was waiting for Clive to say more but he never replied. Clive studied the business card further, ‘Jack Spencer – Mortgage Advisor.’ It contained a telephone number but nothing else. Simple and yet enigmatic. He felt he had no idea who Jack Spencer was and yet he was about to spend the evening with him and his mysterious friends. This was completely unlike himself but he couldn’t deny the small jolts of excitement that pumped through his body at the thought of going on an adventure. This was also intermixed with the realisation of how dangerous this could be.

‘Will I be able to get a taxi to come all the way out here to pick me up do you think?’ He asked the silent chauffeur.

The driver once again turned his head slightly but kept his eyes fixed firmly on the road ahead, the headlights illuminating various trees and fences. He cleared his throat and replied, ‘that won’t be a problem.’

Clive did not ask any more questions for the rest of the journey. They eventually pulled up to two large gothic style gates surrounded by high walls that were alive with tendrils of ivy. They paused for a moment as the gates slowly creaked open and they continued up the long winding driveway. The estate was surrounded by a large woodland area that remained contained within the walls. The feeling of doubt which had started out as the size of a golf ball had now metastasised to the size of a small pumpkin and Clive was debating whether or not he should ask the driver to turn back around or to just charge through the woods and scale the wall. The excitement he experienced earlier had now dissipated and the heavy sense of doubt was growing, Clive was convinced he could feel it pulsing in the lower half of his body. He was soon distracted however, as the pulled up to Jack’s residence. He had never envisioned him to live in such a work or art. He had imagined that he lived in a large studio apartment on the other side of the city with all his other attractive yuppie friends who hosted cocktail parties every Friday and Saturday night. Instead he lived in what could only be described as towering gothic manor complete with large, arched windows and engraved fixtures framing it’s many windows and doors. The whole residence beamed with golden illumination, a soft glow, almost like candle light emanated from each and every window and Clive could hear Chopin’s Barcarolle in F-Sharp Major drifting across the courtyard from one of the open windows. A pang of excitement returned and seemed to override any of the feelings of doubt that he had been experiencing earlier. The nameless driver turned off the ignition and got out to open the back door.

‘Good evening sir.’ He said as Clive exited the car before he returned to the drivers seat and took off. Clive stood in the courtyard for a few moments taking in the glorious view. He had never experienced a building of such grandiosity before, never mind being invited inside of one. He wanted to study each and every detail so he could fix it in his mind forever. A large fountain gushed at the front of the building and a luscious garden area bloomed with colour and fragrance. He presumed mortgage advice was a lucrative business in order to be able to afford such a luxury. It struck him that it was slightly unusual that he could only hear the music through one of the open windows and no voices. He had expected someone like Jack to have many friends and acquaintances but there didn’t seem to be any movement in any of the windows. A slight breeze seemed to gently usher him away from the door and then a voice piped up in the distance. ‘You’re here!’

Jack flung open one of the large doors and skipped down the large steps and ran over to Clive, he embraced him quickly and stood back to look at him.

‘I’m feeling a little bit underdressed.’ Clive said looking down at his oak coloured corduroys and plain light blue shirt.

‘I don’t have dress codes here.’ Jack replied demonstrating his famous smile.

‘Your house is incredible… I am speechless.’

‘Thanks. I wish I could say it was all down to my hard work but let’s just say it was a lucky inheritance.’

‘Lucky indeed.’ Clive said.

‘Come on in, I’ll show you around.’ Jack linked Clive’s arm and started to walk him in.

The interior of the manor seemed to put the exterior to shame, it oozed even more luxury and elegance. A large crystal chandelier hung in the lobby casting a thousand small beads of light over the room that seemed to dance each time a slight breeze made its way inside. Candles flickered and glowed from many elaborate holders and lanterns and the walls were lined with colourful, textured wallpaper that seemed to breathe with a life of it’s own . Paintings and ornamental fixtures seemed to fill up any blank space but not in a way that could be deemed too overpowering or cluttered. Clive was beginning to think that Jack may have some royal blood in him. As he cast his eyes over the luxurious space, he noticed there was a strange smell in the air. Clive had never experienced such an aroma before, it wasn’t particularly unpleasant but it seemed to linger in the back of his throat.

‘I can’t believe you live here.’ Clive exclaimed as he tried to take in each and every perfectly formed detail. Jack continued to present his smile.

‘Where is everyone else?’ Clive asked as they walked through a large study.

‘They are in the back, I thought I would show you around first and fix you up with a drink.’ Jack said as he opened up a large door and led them into a kitchen area.

‘Gin?’ He asked as he reached for a decanter filled almost to the top.

‘I’ll just take a beer if you have one?’ Clive asked.

Jack smiled and went over to the refrigerator and removed a bottle of beer from one of the shelves. He flipped off the cap and handed it to Clive.

‘Thanks.’ Clive said. ‘How long have you lived here for?’

‘Not too long, a few years now.’ Jack replied as he poured himself a drink fom the decanter and took a sip of the honey coloured liquid. ‘I’m glad you came to my party Clive.’

There it was again, he had said his name. ‘I was going to ask you last time but you had gone before I had chance. I don’t ever remember ever telling you my name.’ Clive asked, the ball of doubt in his stomach seemed to pulse once again.

Jack chuckled. ‘Ah yeah… Busted.’ He laughed once again and set his drink down on the counter. ‘I guess I have a confession to make.’

The sensation in Clive’s stomach changed from a pulse to a light throb.

‘A confession?’ Clive probed.

‘Well I don’t want to scare you or put you off but I know a little bit about you Clive. It’s not like I would invite a complete and utter stranger to my party!’ He chuckled to himself once again. ‘It will make more sense when you meet the others.’

The light throbbing sensation in Clive’s stomach had now changed to a heavy thud.

‘The others?’ Clive said, he took a step back from Jack and tried to resist the urge to run out the back door. The air had suddenly changed in the room.

Jack held his hands up and took a step towards Clive.

‘I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. I probably should have told you all of this before you came tonight. I was worried that if I told you that I knew you already then you wouldn’t come.’

‘But you don’t know me!’ Clive raised his voice to try and hide the shakiness that was beginning to set in.

‘Come and meet the others and I will explain it all to you. It’s nothing to worry about Clive.’ Jack smiled again. This was the first time that Clive had interpreted it to be sinister.

‘I think I should go.’ Clive said as he set the bottle of beer down.

Jack picked up the decanter and launched it at Clive’s head.

A flickering light brought him back. It began as a soft nudge back into reality and then it seemed to grow brighter and brighter. Clive began to open his eyes. His head felt as though it had been split open leaving the nerves exposed and was being repeatedly stung by a nest or irate wasps. He placed his hand to where the pain emanated from to check that he was still all pieced together correctly. It felt tender and was still sticky from the blood that had congealed in his hair. He moaned quietly from the pain. The rest of the room began to come into focus. The flickering light was generated from a single candle that was placed on a small table in the middle of the room. At the far end of the room, a stairwell led to a single wooden door. He realised he was in the basement. The smell that he had noticed earlier on was more pungent in the basement, it reminded him of bitter fruit. Then he noticed the bodies. Some were propped up against the wall, others were lay lifeless on the floor, they all were face down or facing the wall. His body rocked with fear, Clive tried to resist the urge to shout for help as he knew he was in the middle of nowhere. There was no sign of Jack but he knew he would not have much time to make a quick and silent escape. As he regained more focus, he realised that the table in the middle of the room was not just a table, it was an alter. There were various occult looking symbols etched into it. Clive shuddered and tried to stand up but realised his legs had been tied together with rope. He fell to his side into something sticky and wet. It was blood, some fresh and wet, some dried and lumpy. As he looked further around the room he noticed all the other entrails and various body parts and organs littering the bloody floor. He didn’t realise he was vomiting until he heard the footsteps above his head. He quickly rolled on to his back and brought his legs up to his chest so he could attempt to untie the rope. The door at the top of the stairs swung open and Clive saw a figure appear. He squinted to try and make out more detail. He realised that the figure was wearing a large black cloak with the hood up as they began to walk down the stairs. Clive tried desperately to free his legs but the rope was tied tightly and the coarse fibres dug into the skin on his fingers and burned as he tried to pull his legs loose.

‘Don’t even bother trying.’

The figure had reached the bottom of the stairs and began to approach Clive. It was Jack. He stepped over a couple of the bodies and paused in front of him.

‘Why?’ Clive cried out.

Jack smiled. Clive had grown to detest those creases on his face, he wanted to permanently wipe that heinous smile off of his face.

‘You’ve lost it! Let me go!’ Clive shouted. Jack continued to stare at him, the smile permanently fixed on his face.

‘Amazing.’ He said.

‘What do you mean? Please just let me go. Please.’ Clive’s cries were beginning to turn to a whimper as the fear took over. The throbbing sensation in his stomach had become overpowering and he curled over in pain.

‘You have no idea, do you?’ Jack said as he pulled a large dagger out from his pocket and began to play with it.

‘What? I don’t understand?’ Clive cried weakly. He ached all over and felt the strength leaving his body with each moment.

‘Let me show you.’ Jack said as he began to approach one of the lifeless bodies. He flipped it over so Clive could see it’s face. He did the same with all the other bodies. Clive recoiled in horror when he noticed the similarity between all the bodies. They all looked exactly like him.

‘I don’t…’ Clive could not complete his sentence.

‘I call myself a collector.’ Jack began as he stroked one of the bodies with his dagger. ‘You are all so easy to lure back here. This one here has come all the way from Australia.’ He pointed to one of the Clive lookalikes with the dagger. ‘And this one from South Africa.’ He pointed to another one. Clive realised that they had all been completed eviscerated, their insides were empty dark caverns which explained why the floor was littered with organs. Clive watched as Jack tried to avoid slipping on a lonesome liver that glistened in the candlelight. ‘It helps that you’re all queer boys who can’t resist my charm and good looks.’ Jack laughed manically. ‘I’ve been working on getting some of you boys back here for months, all for this very special night.’

‘Special night? I don’t understand? Why do they all look like me?’ Clive’s head was spinning, he started to wonder if he had died and this was some version of hell that he was living in.

‘You really don’t know do you?’ Jack smiled. ‘You see, some of your brothers here knew. Not all of them but some of them knew they were different. Just like you.’

As Jack continued talking, Clive tried to discretely free his legs. He moved them slowly trying to loosen the binds but without catching Jack’s attention.

‘You’re not human Clive-y boy. They don’t have a name for you but some might call you a monster, but I call you all demons. You’re all one specific species with one specific purpose and I’m here to stop you all.’

Clive was convinced that Jack has completely deluded and he knew that if he could keep him talking, he would have more chance of freeing his legs and getting out of there.

‘You don’t believe me do? Some of the others didn’t either so let me prove it to you. Let me introduce you to your real face.’ Jack walked over to one of the bodies and dragged it over to Clive. Close up, Clive was amazed at how similar he looked to the dead man, the same brown hair, the same blue eyes, the same slightly oversized chin and nose. It was like he was looking back at his reflection. Except this was what he would like if he was dead. As Clive studied the dead man’s face, Jack dug the dagger blade into the skin near his ear. Blood trickled out as he carved around the outside of the man’s face. Clive felt his stomach contract and the taste of bile and vomit rose in the back of his throat. The bitter fruit smell hit him hard and he realised it was coming from the body. Jack continued to cut around the outside of the man’s face as though he was performing some form of horror-show face-lift. Clive could not tear his eyes away from the horrific sight that was unfolding and he could not be prepared for what he observed next. As Jack peeled the skin away, another face emerged. It seemed impossible but beneath was the most monstrous thing Clive had ever seen. Two small bead-like eyes, lifeless and embedded in two slits of greyish skin. The nose was long and thin but less prominent than a human face with one large nostril positioned just above a huge gaping mouth. The mouth seemed to take over half of the face and Clive could not believe that such a terrifying creature resided behind the man’s original face. It’s large mouth was lined with long pin-like fangs and a large purple tongue had flopped over to one side. Clive wanted to scream and he wanted to run but the sight paralysed him.

‘Say hello to your true face.’ Jack said, he grabbed the top and bottom of the creature’s head and made it open and close it’s gaping mouth. ‘Hello Clive, nice to meet you brother.’ He made it say in a high pitched voice. He laughed and threw the body to the side.

‘There’s one more surprise in store as well.’ Jack said as he skipped over the body.

‘No. No more, please, just let me go. You’ve made a mistake.’ Clive cried.

Jack laughed, ‘that’s what they all say!’ He walked past Clive and made his way to a door that Clive hadn’t noticed before. It looked like some sort of storage cupboard.

‘Now I wonder what we have in here?’ Jack said as he grasped the door handle.

Clive’s stomach churned and pulsed, he wasn’t sure he could take anymore. He had begun to grow dizzy and faint.

Jack swung the door open and it hit the wall with a loud bang, he reached in and pulled out another body. This one also looked like Clive but had not been disembowelled like the others. Clive realised that this one was still alive but unconscious. Jack quickly and skilfully cut off it’s face and revealed another large mouthed creature. The heavy, pungent smell returned. ‘See.’ He said, ‘just like you.’ He poked at it’s head with the dagger and it slowly began to come to life. The dark eyes rolled around it’s large looking head and the mouth began to open and close as though it was trying to say something.

‘Stop it!’ Clive cried. He still could not believe what he was seeing, he couldn’t believe that he himself was one of these creatures and that beneath his average face lay such a terrifying monster.

‘Ready for the big surprise?’ Jack grinned.

‘No! No more!’ Clive screamed, a sudden burst of energy fuelled by the fear had caused him to grow stronger.

‘Now, now Clive. Calm down. I don’t want to have to kill you before I reveal the ending to you.’ Jack laughed.

Clive continued to try and wriggle free but stopped when he saw what Jack did next. He plunged the dagger into the bowels of the creature’s stomach. It howled with agony as Jack pulled the skin apart and reached deep inside of it with both hands. He seemed to be navigating his fingers around the inside of it’s body until he eventually pulled something out. He held it up for Clive to see. It was about the size of a small grapefruit but in the shape of an egg.

‘This is the reason I have gathered you all this evening.’ Jack said as he brought the egg-shaped object closer to his face. ‘You see, your demon breed does not reproduce in the same way as humans do. You are a male only species and you give birth to yourselves over and over which is why you all look the same. Tonight, under this full moon is the night when you finally unleash your god-forsaken offspring into the world. It will only ever happen once in your life but this year is slightly different. All the ancient scriptures point to this year being the year of the apocalypse, the end of the world as we know it. It is said that all demon offspring born in this year will finally become the prominant species, killing and maiming billions of humans until the world belongs to them. Now, I’m not one to leave things to chance. So tonight, I bring about your slaughter.’

Clive could not believe what he was hearing. The throbbing sensation in his stomach was becoming too much and it was at that point that he realised the sensation was not the feeling of doubt. It was not fear or any other emotion. It was a physical sensation. He suddenly realised that it was his own offspring getting ready to come into the word. He began to feel faint again, he could not believe that everything Jack was saying was true. Was he really a demon? Was he evil? He was a simple man, an average guy, he certainly didn’t feel like these things. he had always senses that he was not like everyone else but not that he was a monster! He pulled up his shirt and saw something pulsing beneath the skin of his stomach.

‘You see.’ Jack said. ‘You’re a demon.’

Clive shook his head but he was beginning to realise that something definitely was not right.

‘You have to die.’ Jack calmly said. He held the egg in one hand and lifted up the dagger.

Clive screamed. It was a scream like no other, he felt the skin on his face begin to split open. His mouth extended wider and wider until it was as big as his head. He instinctively lurched up from the ground, cracked his mouth open as far as it would go and devoured the entirety of Jack’s head in one bite. The rest of his body fell to the floor, blood spurted from his neck until it became only a faint dribble. Clive ripped the rope away from his legs and stood over what was left of Jack’s body. The taste of his flesh filled him with strength but he could feel that something else was happening. He fell on all fours and began to retch violently. With each pain staking retch he could feel something travelling up from his lower region, up into his throat and finally with one last retch, he spewed a large egg out on to the bloody floor. He gushed with bile and vomit. After his breathing returned back to normal, he picked up his egg, freshly wet and pulsing. He placed it to his ear and could hear the faint flutter of a heartbeat echoing inside. He picked up the other egg that Jack had attempted to kill and held the two of them close to his body. He did not know what was about to happen next but with the eggs tucked close to his body, he proceeded to exit the basement.

Drew R Forest©