Janice leaned across the desk and called after him as he got out of the elevator.
“Tom, your wife called earlier. And a man who said he would rather call back than to leave a message. It sounded important.”
Ex-wife, he wanted to correct her, but didn’t. “What was his name?”, he asked instead as he continued towards his office. When she didn’t answer him immediately he stopped with his hand on the door handle and turned around to shoot her a questioning look.
Janice was biting her lip and seemed genuinely embarrassed. “I… Well, I’m sure he told me, and I was just about to write it down. But as soon as I had hung up the phone… Well, it just slipped my mind. I’m sorry, Tom. But he said that he would call again later.”
He sighed and shook his head. “Let’s hope he does then”, he muttered and disappeared into his office.
Thomas Smith was a very practical man, and as such he also had very practical dreams. He put all his waking time – and all his money – into building his business and making it grow. And it did. In a relatively short time he had managed to secure himself quite a prestigious office in a central part of the city, and a handful of equally prestigious clients.
Now he just waited for the business press and the secret fraternal organizations to discover him as well. To this end, missing out on important calls was definitely not one of his favourite pastimes.
He was sitting behind his desk inside the spacious and expensively furnished office when his phone started ringing. He had developed a routine for how he handled such events, so as not to come on as too eager or too available. He waited until right before the fourth signal was about to sound, then cleared his throat and answered the phone in a sober voice devoid of all emotion or expectation.
“Smith and Smithson, you’re talking to Thomas Smith”, he said. There actually was no Smithson involved in the firm. There was just him, but a double cognomen company name sounded more serious and memorable.
“Ah, finally I get ahold of you. I had the privilege of talking to your lovely assistant earlier, but you were not yet in by then.” The man’s voice was dry but jovial, with a slight British accent.
“Ah, yes. Janice mentioned your previous call.” Thomas straightened up in his chair. This was the guy who had called before. Had he said his name now? Thomas wasn’t sure, and didn’t dare to ask in case he’d come across as inattentive. “How can I help you?”
“Janice, yes that was her name. Remember now. Lovely voice, that one. A delight to talk to. Well, anyways. I’m calling on behalf of an organization that I represent, to invite you to a dinner party later this evening.”
Thomas’ heart skipped a beat. An organization. A dinner party. This sounded like just the kind of attention he’d been eagerly waiting for. He swallowed and fought hard to keep the excitement out of his voice. “Oh, is that so? And what kind of organization is that?”
The voice on the other end chuckled. “Oh, I’m sorry if I misspoke. Not an organization, Mr. Smith. The Organization. Not anyone attracts their attention, sir, and you’ve been hand-picked. Our by-laws prevent me from giving out any additional information about us before you are dedicated, but I can assure you that this dinner will be a real game changer for your state of life.”
Thomas had gotten up from his chair now and was pacing back and forth in front of the large windows. His composure was slipping between his fingers like sand. “This… This definitely sounds interesting, Mr…?”
“Ah, excellent. Then I’ll arrange for a car to pick you up at your office by eight. Formal dress code is observed.”
“Oh, eh, thank you. I’m… Looking forward to it. And I’m hoping to speak more to you later as well.”
“Yeah, there’ll probably be some time for that too. Well, I’ll see you tonight th–”
“Wait! Ehrm, what did you say your name was again?”
Now there was a smile in the entire voice. “Ah, I am Vincent. See you tonight, Thomas.”
And then the call was ended.
Thomas didn’t get any more work done that afternoon. As soon as he had put down the phone he picked it up again, called Janice and asked her to get him a really nice tuxedo. Then he booted up his computer and started researching Freemason etiquette, intellectual conversation subjects and a thousand other important things he suddenly realized that he didn’t have the slightest clue about. Mildly put, he panicked there for a while.
Then Janice knocked on his door and entered with his evening attire in a fancy package.
“What did the man say? Where is it you’re going?”, she asked as she put the clothes down on his desk.
Thomas shook his head without looking up from his computer. “I can’t tell you, Janice. It’s part of a secret rite of initiation.”
Janice pressed her lips together and stifled an irritated sigh. “Well then”, she said and crossed her arms across her chest. “I guess I’ll leave you to your secrets then, Mr. Smith. And you’re welcome.” Then she marched out of the office and slammed the door shut behind her.
He didn’t even notice that she had left until thirty minutes later.
He got dressed and ready well before time, and when the clock neared eight he was already pacing nervously on the sidewalk outside the office building. This was his chance to really become something, to prove himself and to make the right kind of connections. He had to pull this off and make a good impression.
Then a black Mercedes pulled up in front of him, and he instantly stopped pacing. He hoped that the driver hadn’t seen him doing it, but knew that such an instance of luck was highly unlikely. Before he had decided whether he should jump into the car on his own accord or not, the driver’s door opened and a man stepped out.
His leather coat and pompadour hairstyle went entirely in black, and stood in stark contrast to the pallor of his skin. He tilted his head to the side and regarded Thomas over the top of the car.
“You’re shorter than I imagined, but I guess that’s okay”, he said. Thomas recognized the voice. “Jump in, mate. I’m your driver tonight.”
“But you’re… You’re the one I spoke to on the phone, right?” Thomas was really confused now, and not just by the casual insult.
“Very observant of you. Yeah, I’m Vincent. But I’m also your driver.”
“I thought you said–”
“Come on now, we can talk on the way. Nice tux, by the way.”
Then Vincent returned to the driver’s seat. After a moment’s hesitation, Thomas seated himself in the back. This was not what he had expected, but then again, this was also the first time he was ever in contact with an esoteric secret society. Maybe this was just their eccentric way of things. I’ll hopefully be given the opportunity to get used to it, he thought.
“So, how come I was hand-picked?”, he said as the car started moving.
Vincent met his gaze through the rear view mirror. “Ah, yeah that’s a good question. Well. You see, I was tasked with scouting for a dinner guest, based on a list of very strict criteria. The aspirant would, amongst other things, have to be raised in the city, be between twenty eight and thirty three years old, an up and coming businessman, and of average height.
You turned out to be a promising candidate – except for the height, it turns out. But I’ll blame your misleading profile pictures for that. Anyways, mate, don’t fret. They’re going to love you.”
The house was old and classic, with tall windows overlooking the busy street from half a dozen expensive floors. When they arrived, Vincent actually got out of the car and hurried around it to open Thomas’ door for him. The latter was positively surprised by this, the former having shown very little of this kind of courteousness during the drive. This might actually turn out to be something fancy after all, Tom mused.
Vincent kept up the gallantry by holding up the entrance door for him as well, and then proceeded to calling down the elevator for them. The stairwell was classy and impressive, with real art on the walls and such shine in its marble floor slabs that it was almost possible to use them as an enormous rose mirror. As they got into the elevator, the impression of unblushing wealth was only strengthened; there was a small chandelier hanging from the ceiling, and on the small floor was a Persian carpet.
“Wow, this place is… really something”, Tom said as he admired the intricate patterns on the brass key set panel.
“Yeah, I guess”, Vincent replied, but didn’t sound all too excited himself. He pressed one of the shiny elevator buttons, and they rose smoothly upwards to the soft notes of Cello Suite no. 1 in G major playing from cleverly hidden speakers.
They arrived on the sixth floor, and as the elevator doors opened before him Thomas suddenly wished that he had put much more effort into his clothing. The music from the elevator, he realized, was the same as was playing in the grand parlour that the doors opened upon. There was a party going on here, alright. Catering personnel moved skilfully amongst the smartly dressed attendants who were mingling, drinking and eating canapés from silver plates all across the room.
As Tom stepped out of the elevator, trying to adopt as confident and stately an air as possible despite almost panicking on the inside, many of the eyes in the room were turned towards him. Vincent hurried across the room to say something to a plump man in a ceremonial uniform, consequently leaving Thomas all to his own, terrified self. He thus gratefully accepted the drink offered to him by one of the well-dressed servers, and took a deep sip as a quick fix to his revolting nerves.
“Are you the dinner guest?”
He almost choked on the champagne. The woman was beautiful, dressed in green silk and suddenly standing next to him. Her eyes seemed to be boring into his, and he could not for the life of him have looked away – even if he had wanted to.
“Ehm, yes”, he managed to reply as he fought desperately against the impulse to cough up the liquid he had just accidentally inhaled.
“I expected you to be taller”, she said and smiled dangerously. “But I’m sure you have other delicious qualities that I can’t wait to explore.”
He didn’t know what to say, but immediately decided that he really, really wanted this new acquaintance to explore him. Thoroughly.
“Ah, there you are”, Vincent said. “The dinner’s about to begin any minute, they were just waiting for you. Come.” He ushered Tom across the room, away from the woman in green.
“See you at the table then”, she called after him with a sly smile. He really, really hoped so.
“Oh, and don’t drink that shit”, Vincent said and snatched the champagne glass from his hand. He snapped his fingers and a waiter left his post by the nearby wall and hurried over with a silver plate with a single glass on it. “Here. This is the real deal”, Vincent said and unceremoniously handed Tom the glass from the plate.
Tom accepted the glass and sipped from it as they walked across the large room. “Who are all these people?”, he whispered to Vincent. “Is this the Organization?”
Vincent shrugged. “Parts of it. Some of them. The ones attending the separate dinner are. The rest of them are just… people, I guess. They don’t know anything.”
“Oh”, Thomas said, unsure what that even meant. “What should I do? I mean, what’s expected of me?”
Vincent smiled and patted his shoulder. “Don’t you worry about that, mate. You’ve done your part just by coming here. Just relax and drink your wine, and the rest will take care of itself, sort of.”
They entered a separate dining hall where a long table had already been arranged with beautiful china, iron candlesticks and several sets of gleaming silver cutlery. One end of the room was taken up by a low stage, and Thomas realized that this was where the music was coming from; it was not a recording at all, but a live performance being delivered by a sextet of highly skilled musicians.
The room and the table was already filling up with beautiful people in beautiful dresses and uniforms. Waiters moved around the table, offering up different kinds of wine and other types of alcohol. Thomas just stood there beside Vincent and admired the almost surreal wealth and class on display before him. Oddly enough, he didn’t feel the panic anymore. In fact, he felt strangely relaxed despite being so obviously misplaced amidst this distinguished company. He took another sip of his wine.
Before long, everyone was seated except for the two of them. Tom’s eyes wandered in search for an empty chair, but to his bemusement there didn’t seem to be one. Then the music silenced.
“Welcome, brothers and sisters”, a deep voice spoke up. Tom realized that it belonged to the same man that Vincent had been talking to previously. “I am tremendously pleased that you could all join us here tonight, and I am also very pleased to introduce you to this evening’s special guest – Mr. Thomas Frederick Smith.”
At this, the entire table exploded in a thundering round of applause. Tom nodded, smiled awkwardly and again didn’t know what to say. He suddenly locked eyes with the woman from before and could have sworn she was licking her lips as she looked at him.
“Thank you, Vincent, for bringing him in – though I would like a word with you later about your definition of the words ‘average height’.” Large portions of the table burst out laughing at this, but were quickly silenced again by a gesture from the man in the uniform.
Vincent muttered something that Thomas couldn’t quite make out, despite standing right next to him. In fact, he was suddenly having trouble making words out at all. Or faces. Or thoughts. Oh my god, did I drink too much already? Am I really that drunk? Will people notice? Have I fucked everything up now?
People were looking at him. Had someone asked him something? He wasn’t sure. He grabbed the backrest of a chair and hoped that nobody would notice how difficult he was finding it suddenly to remain standing on his own two feet. “Vincent”, he whispered, “I think that I…”
“Relax, mate”, Vincent said and put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s all as it should.”
Somewhere people were laughing. A woman in green was staring hungrily at him. A waiter entered the room with a gleaming slicer on a plate. The entire room was spinning.
“No, I… I blew it. The party. The dinner. I was invited to eat dinner with…”
His limbs wouldn’t obey him anymore. The glass slipped from his hand and shattered against the marble. He didn’t even hear the sound. His legs gave way beneath him and he sank to the floor.
Vincent, his hand still on Tom’s shoulder, appeared within his shrinking field of vision. “Oh, darn. I’m sorry if I misspoke. Not to eat dinner, Mr. Smith. To be the dinner.” He smiled widely. “Not anyone attracts the attention of the Organization, sir, and you’ve been hand-picked based on a list of very strict criteria. These people have very particular tastes, you see.”
Tom shook his head, or at least he tried to. Everything was spinning colours now, and he realized that he had slumped over on the floor. He was lying on the cold rose marble, watching helplessly as the man in the uniform approached him with the gleaming slicer.
“Let’s dig in then, shall we?”, the man in said. Thomas tried to scream, to fight, to crawl away, but could do none of these things. The thought struck him that he had been poisoned, that nobody – not even Janice – knew where he was, and that these people were going to kill and eat him.
And then the very last shred of consciousness left him, and he never thought anything ever again.
Vincent shook his head as he re-entered the dining hall in the grey hours of morning. The party was over, the guests gone since long. While the lonely, bold and beautiful people had grandiosely and ravenously satisfied their hunger for vitalem with the flesh and blood of poor Thomas Smith, Vincent himself had prowled the streets and back alleys of the city for much less glamorous contentment of his undead thirst.
There were times when he didn’t mind this degradation, or the less moral, pleasant and decent parts of his job. But then again, there were also times when he did. But such was his lot in life – and lonely unlife, for that matter – and there was nothing to be done about it.
He was the fixer of needs, the dealer of goods and the solver of problems – and as such he was only welcome in the grand parlours to deliver wares before the feasts, and to take out the glorified, elevated remains when they were over.
After this particular feast, those said remains had certainly been elevated indeed. All over the place.
Vincent sighed. “You’re welcome”, he said to the empty room as he started unwinding a roll of black garbage disposal bags. Then he got about his grizzly task with the routine of someone who has done the same thing many times before, humming Eleanor Rigby all the while. It seemed only fitting.
Where did they all come from, after all?
Chris Smedbakken, 2018-03-05
This story was written in response to a title writing prompt,
It is also highly inspired by a dark urban folklore/RPG setting created by my good friend Stellawainwright. Check out his site, will yah?
I have, by the way, previously written three other short stories set in the same universe. If you want to read them as well, they are called The Sound of Silence, The Forest and Substitution.